Why I Err On The Side Of TOO LITTLE Description While Writing

Have you ever read a book so chock full of description or backstory that you got lost in the middle of the characters’ dialogue? I sure have. And, as a budding book reviewer, that’s what makes me drop the review an entire star—in regards to rating. When writers go down the rabbit hole for far too long, or describe a room with an overkill of flowery prose, it can make a potentially great book just good, or a good book become bad.
Some readers like lots of description, but I promise they’re far and few in between. Why? Because we have movies and video games to get the visuals we want. Our world is overflowing with visual onslaught, and now, writers must pull in readers faster than their predecessors. 

What Makes A Great Book?

Most contemporary great books have excellent pacing, unpretentious dialogue, and just enough detail to bring the reader into a different world while still allowing her/him to use her/his imagination. Reading can often be a form of escape, but readers don’t want to be told word by word how they’re supposed to get to this imaginary world. Many of us have a little rebel inside, vying for a bit a freedom—especially when it comes to the arts. 

An Editor’s (And Reader’s) Perspective

Last year, I edited 16 books—fiction and non-fiction [HIRE ME HERE]. Not once did I ask my clients for more descriptions of a building or a room…nor did I ask them for more backstory. Often, I advised they cut down on some of the book’s description in order to increase the pacing of the book. Unless I’m editing a technical manual, there is no need for overkill on descriptions. (Yes, there can be exceptions, but that’s not my point in this post.) I also read about 75 books last year, in all different genres, and continued to develop my eye for a great story versus just a good story. The best books were those with minimal descriptions.

Minimalist Descriptions

As a writer, I tend to hold back on description until the very end of revisions. In the YA genre especially, characters are expected to have descriptions so that fangirls and fanboys can draw fan art for all the cool authors. But in other genres, there may be more of a focus on action, suspense, romance, etc. Therefore, shorter descriptions of characters, or none at all, may be more appropriate. And of course readers want to know what the setting looks like, but erring on the side of less description and then waiting for feedback from beta readers would be an easier fix than crying because your editor wants you to delete a whole page. 
In the book Hooked by Les Edgerton, it’s advised to focus more on putting characters in action rather than worrying about their eye color, weight, height, hair color, etc. I’ll quote Edgerton, as he addresses character description in his writing:
“In fact, my own writing contains very little description of any of my characters—it’s virtually nonexistent—yet, for years I’ve asked readers if they can describe a character I pick at random from my stories, and invariably they come up with a detailed description, no matter which character I might choose. When I tell them I haven’t described the character mentioned at all (as I hardly ever have), they’re surprised, and some swear that I did, even going so far as to drag out the story and look for where I’ve included the description. They never find it.” -Hooked, page 141
Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

What’s A Writer To Do?

So, what to do? From experience as a writer and editor, I advise not worrying so much about description as much as plot, pacing, and dialogue. When my editors go through my manuscripts, they make notes when I need more description. I also have some great beta readers who will let me know if I need to add more detail or if I left some questions unanswered. 
MY edits in my book proof.

MY edits in my book proof.

The Boneyard

However, if you just can’t see yourself lessening your story details, you can get in the habit of making some cuts as you rewrite. I coached a good friend of mine through his dissertation, and he taught me about something I’d never before encountered: “The Boneyard.”
The Boneyard is a “grave” or placeholder for all that wonderful, genius prose that just doesn’t work for your manuscript. However, the cool thing about this type of grave is that words can be resurrected from it. Sometimes we’ll make cuts but decide that our original idea (or a variation of it) works better. The Boneyard comes to the rescue! When I make any big cuts, I place them in that book’s Boneyard in case I need to pull from it later. It saves me from going through old drafts, trying to pinpoint what I had originally written. I either keep my manuscript’s Boneyard in a separate Word document, or I create a new note in Evernote.


Backstory is another offender. It truly is an art to be able to seamlessly weave in backstory while still keeping pacing intact. I read a really cool book the other week, but it had the largest chunks of backstory I’ve ever seen in my life! In fact, that was the number one complaint in all of the reviews. I’m talking about pages of backstory or a character flashback in the middle of dialogue. At times, it was so bad, I almost forgot what the characters had been talking about. Almost none of the extra descriptions and backstory added to the novel whatsoever. 
For that very reason, I make a point to let my clients know if they are at risk of the same thing. I want their books to be the best they can be—with witty banter, fresh but limited descriptions that sharpen the storyline, and a fictional world that has never before been seen. I’ve been a backstory offender before, so I’m speaking from experience. What’s cool about cutting unnecessary backstory is that you can place the cuts in The Boneyard and pull it out later to write a novella or character extras for fans. Just because your words have been cut from your manuscript, doesn’t mean that they suck or need to “die.” No! If they’re decent, they can be reused in other ways. 
Here’s what Les Edgerton has to say about backstory and details:
“What’s not done today is the immediate helping of backstory right after that (implied) ‘once upon a time.’ We don’t fill readers in on the protagonist’s life for the past ten years leading up to the story’s [actual] beginning. We also don’t spend a lot of time describing the village he lives in, the street he walks down each day to work, his waking habits, or the copious details of each room he enters. Or every bite of the breakfast he ingests or the primary colors of the songbird outside his window.” -Hooked, pages 9-10
Edgerton goes on to say that what matters for a story’s beginning is the inciting incident, and then things continue to build from there. Less really can be more, especially when it comes to fiction. It’s like a man perhaps finding a modestly-clothed woman more mysterious and sexy than one who’s wearing daisy dukes and a bikini top. Maybe not the best example, but you get the idea.

Let’s Wrap It Up

The thing is, we live in a different society and culture than the one thousands of years ago—or even a hundred years ago—where long and flowery descriptions were thought to be signs of creative genius. Readers today want something fast, something different, something special. And writers need to deliver on those terms, meaning that too much description and/or backstory just won’t cut it. The plot needs to be solid, conflicts need to be resolved, and unless readers just want a fluffy cotton candy read, the imagination needs to be engaged. Give readers more feelings than visuals, and I promise they’ll remember your book more than ones overshadowed by boring details and a dump of backstory. Why? Because if you can make them feel a certain way—a way in which they resonate with your characters—they won’t give two craps about whether your main character has red, blonde, black, or purple hair. 
Give readers FEELS! All the FEELS!

What Do YOU Think?

Okay, blog readers. Time for you to sound out. What do you think about descriptions and backstory? Have you read—or written—books with way too much? Do you like all the additional details? What’s too much for you? What’s too little? Comment below! 

Highly Anticipated Reads of 2015

Welcome to 2015, lovely readers! Can you believe I’ve managed to blog for 3 years now? Feels like yesterday that I wrote my first post, not knowing what the hell I was doing. I’ve learned and grown a lot since then, and I’m grateful to have a handful of people in this world who actually read my posts. Thanks for reading. You’re all wonderful. xx

Now, as I promised from my favorite reads of 2014 blog post, I wanted to share what’s on my 2015 to-read list. I’m just sharing my top reads, but this list is not exhaustive by any means. If you are curious and want to know what I plan on reading in 2015 (the ever-growing list), then just click HERE to view it on Goodreads. (And if we’re not Goodreads friends yet, then by all means, please send me a friend request!)

What books will you read in 2015?

What books will you read in 2015?

Okay, here we go. My highly anticipated reads of 2015:

On Writing by Stephen King

Just got this book from Amazon last month. It will be my first Stephen King read, actually. Though, I’m sure I’ll finally pick up one of his other famous works some time this year.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

I’ve seen the movies, but have yet to read the book. Looking forward to this, as it’s less daunting than…

…The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

I tried to read this before—perhaps 5 or 6 years ago. And at the time, I just couldn’t do it. But now, as a reader, I’m in such a different place. I think this is my year to finally tackle this book. I know I’m going to love it, but I also know it’s not light reading in any sense.

Throne of Glass book 4 By Sarah J. Maas

Last year, I became such a huge Maas fan! Seriously, I can’t sing her praises enough with her Throne of Glass series. It’s just brilliant and amazing and everything that epic fantasy should be. I’m hoping to get an ARC through NetGalley this year.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

And, since I’m such a big Maas fan, I’m looking forward to her new series that is also due to begin this year. This woman has captured my reader’s heart.

The Fallen Part 2 by Robin Woods

My dear friend and writer in crime is going to release her 6th book this year! Woohoo! I have had the pleasure of reading the majority of this book already—as a beta reader—but have yet to know the final ending. I can’t wait to see what Woods has in store for this sure to be epic ending.

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I suppose this is my year to get on several fandom buses I’ve been flirting with for the past few years. I guess I’ve put off this series only because I know I’m going to be obsessed with it, and I truly need to read it during a time of my life when I actually have time to be devoted. I’m hoping to tackle it in the first half of this year—the first book, at least.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I began reading a few Austen books a while ago, but never got through the whole collection. I think it’s time I added more of her books to my “conquered” book list.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Same as my sentiments above. ^

The Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum

I started book one and was loving it, but there’s so much detail—so much going on. At the time, I was having a crappy year, so I stopped reading it because I lost patience. But, Ludlum was such a gifted writer, and I did enjoy what I had read. So, I will attempt to get through the whole series this year.

Wool by Hugh Howie

This one is loaded onto my kindle already, but I’ve been saving it. I want to see what all the fuss is about—why this guy is basically a self-made millionaire via self-publishing. Perhaps I can crack the code if I read this. Or, perhaps I’ll just be reading a great book that lots of people love. Or both. You never know, after all. 🙂

Pendragon by Stephen R. Lawhead

Lawhead is responsible for my early onset love affair of epic historical fantasy fiction. The guy is a genius. Seriously. I read the first 3 books of his Pendragon Cycle (Taliesin, Merlin, & Arthur) when I was just a bebe at age 14. I could NOT put down those books! In fact, you want to know what I got in trouble for when I was in junior high? For staying up reading until 2am with a flashlight. Not much has changed, except that I don’t use a flashlight anymore and I don’t get in trouble because I’m 30. Ha.
Anyways, I digress. Pendragon is book 4 of the series, and I believe there are 2 more books after it. It’s amazing, epic, delicious storytelling of the famous and legendary King Arthur. I know I’m going to love it.

The Mummy by Anne Rice

I finally read an Anne Rice novel last year: Interview with the Vampire. I enjoyed it, but it was very stuffy with prose. Beautiful prose, but the book took me quite some time to get through. However, I understand the brilliance of Rice’s writing, so I finished the book and gave it 5 stars. Just because it isn’t my current genre obsession doesn’t mean I am unable to identify a good book when I read one. So, I’m going to try The Mummy—both my sister and my dad said it was excellent—and I’ll give something else by Rice a chance.

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin

This one is going to be a LONG read. The book itself is perfect in size and weight to chuck at someone you really despise. Concussion inducing for SURE. But that’s not why I bought it. (No, really, I bought it to read it.) This is a book, or rather a manifesto, about “thinking globally, but acting locally” as the synopsis puts it. This will probably be a read in which I highlight a lot and take breaks to process what I’ve read. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what Rifkin has to say about why humanity falls short when it comes to true progression in regards to “refashioning human consciousness.” (Did I bore you yet?)
Well, I’m sure I’ll get through all of these books and more. I did, after all, set another lofty reading goal this year at 100 books. I’m already 3 deep, so my progression is hopeful thus far.
How about you? What do you plan on reading in 2015?
Some of my "to-read" books for 2015.

Some of my “to-read” books for 2015.