D is for Describing through Action and (Inner) Voice

I’ve read many a book that will grind to a sudden halt as the author stops to describe a character, setting or item. When this happens, I always imagine the characters standing to the side, waiting, or sneaking off for a quick tea break while the author rambles on.

It might seem like a good idea to describe each character in their entirety or provide a detailed description of a building or sword, but stopping the flow of the story to do so is jarring. The other problem is that too much detail can be overwhelming and boring, plus there’s only so much information a reader can take in and retain. Rather than stopping the action (or story flow), try and filter your description through it.

Let’s return to Bob, who came into existence while I was writing C is for Crafting your Story.

This was the opening:

‘Bob stepped through the airlock and whistled. A rickety looking interior wasn’t something he associated with Space Station Ex, though it had been a while since his last visitHe secured his helmet and half bounced, half floated along the narrow corridor to the main console room.’

You’ll notice that its a little lacking in description. As a reader, I need minimal information to build an image in my mind. I’ve watched enough films to know what the interior of a space station looks like. What I’m trying to do is show the reader how this space station differs. The words ‘rickety interior’ creates an image of old, worn, and possibly misshapen panels. However, as the author, this space station exists in my mind. The tricky part is providing enough of a description to allow the reader to ‘see’ what I see without getting carried away, or worse, boring them.

Saying that, I do tend to err on the side of caution. Rather than writing reams of description, I do the complete opposite. Sometimes, the few people who have read my stories ask for a little bit more description (to enable them to visualise the scene properly) and other times I seem to get it bang on (right). As I like to keep the story moving, every piece of description I write tends to be told (shown) through either action or inner voice/indirect thoughts.

In my example above I have used indirect thought rather than writing something like, ‘the rickety looking interior looked old and worn. The pristine white panels had turned grey with age, and bulged at blah blah blah…’

I could, of course, expand on what I have written:

‘Bob stepped through the airlock and whistled as the door clicked shut behind him. The rickety-looking interior wasn’t something he associated with Space Station Ex, though it had been a while since his last visitHe secured his helmet in its designated storage unit and half bounced, half floated along the narrow corridor. The sporadic flickers from the emergency lighting stuttered and died, plunging the station into darkness. Bob tore off one of the padded gloves with his teeth and dug his torch out of the bottommost pocket of his space suit. As he fumbled to find the power switch he smacked against the wall. The torch went in one direction as he floated away in the other…’

What I am trying to do is insert snippets of description (through action) that will allow the reader to build an image of this corridor in their mind, and I’m using Bob’s actions and experiences to do this. I admit killing the lighting is cheating on the corridor description front but it allowed me to move forward and describe parts of his space suit (and no, I’ve not checked to see if space suits have pockets or astronauts even carry torches. I’m in the creative writing phase. Fact checking – for me – comes later).

Because I am trying not to clutter up my story with unnecessary description, it is important (to me) to use verbs and adjectives that capture a (whole) image in as few words as possible. I also use the five senses where I can – sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. I try and provide enough of a description for a reader to create an image in their mind and trust in their ability to fill in the gaps for the details I don’t include. I’ve also found that I tend to be more immersed in stories that write in this manner.

Part two of this subject will be posted tomorrow (although it will be specific to exposition, some of the techniques in that can also be used for description).