Description can be both bane and boon to our writing. It can make the setting and action seem real, pull in the readers and put them front and center, make them a real part of your story. Even so, too much, can be as bad as not enough. It needs a happy medium – enough for realism without overdoing. But how do we get there?
My senior year in high school, we were discussing this very thing. It often comes down to details. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Our teacher assigned a paper, one page only, to demonstrate this point. And while it was a paper giving directions, it applies to description very well, since you have to describe what to do. The subject? How to tie a shoe. She wanted us to describe the process so that someone reading the essay could do exactly what was written and accomplish it.
The next day, she collected all the papers, shuffled them, and handed them out again, giving everyone an essay they didn’t write and had us follow it. Some were easily done, others quite humorous. It drove the point home, however, to focus on the important details, in a limited space, to get the job done.
And while tying shoes may not be overly useful, try it with an apple. Spend a full minute looking at one, noting all the details. Then hide the apple and write your description. Once you are done, compare. Sis you miss anything? Does your description seem as rich as the real thing? If not, you can add to it. The idea is to make it as real as possible. Your readers may not see your particular apple in real life, but you can certainly make them see it in their minds, make them feel it and smell it, taste it. And that is what it’s all about.