One of the writing forums I peruse had an interesting post today. A
new writer, tackling fantasy, wanted to know how to balance
description with plot. She wanted her writing to “read more like a
renaissance painting than a line drawing,” but didn’t want to bog the
reader down with long descriptive paragraphs. I love her analogy, and
sympathize with her plight. Fantasy stories, my own included, need to
have enough description for the reader to feel a part of that
“special” world. But too much description will bore the reader. And
we can’t have bored readers! They’ll transform into tv watchers, and
then who will buy our books?
I think the best way to get rich descriptions into the scene is to
bury them in the action. Set up the basics of the room when the
protagonist walks in. Then throughout the tension-filled
conversation, or the fast-paced battle, or the anxiety-inducing
actions of the mission, fill in the bits and pieces that make the
-The tapestries flutter when the hero is thrown against the wall.
– The warrior’s got to watch his footing on the slick, rush-strewn
flagstone flooring as he parries another blow from the enemy’s
– The Duchess sips sweet red wine from a bronze flagon as she tries
to catch the antagonist in a lie.
– Ashes erupt in a gray plume when the wizard tosses the ancient tome into the firebox, causing the king to sneeze.
– The chancellor lifts the purple silk pillow off the throne seat as
he looks for the missing whatsit, and the scent of lavender clings to
The key is to not sandwich these descriptions together. Like
sprinkles on a birthday cake, you don’t want them dumped in a pile.
But spread throughout the scene, these descriptions are sweet little
nuggets that add clarity, richness, and reality to the text. And that
keeps the reader turning pages instead of searching for the remote.
For what it’s worth,