Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is it Wrong to Expect Readers to be Active Participants in the Story?

Happy Thursday! Today, we're gonna talk about description, how it might impact the reader, and what authors might or might not expect from the consumer. Ready? Grab your coffee or tea, and let's get going!

So, I'm on the phone yesterday with an author friend of mine, and we got into talking about what we expect from our readers. Both of us agreed that we write with the assumption that the person picking up the book has a brain and understands the basics of the world they live in.

For example: If you say someone walks into a bedroom, do you need to write out to the reader that there's a bed, or is that something you can expect them to infer by telling them it's a bedroom?

Several writers will go into great detail about the room's furniture, but those machinations are usually reserved for the times that it matters, right? Say, if there's something "off" about the decor, or if the bed is an antique and should be admired for a moment. Even if the scene calls for a description to tell the reader it's a male's room or a sex cave, that's okay. But if the character is just walking into a bedroom, is it really necessary to bog the reader down with minute details right off the bat?

Here are some other ways to work those details into the story without having an information dump--again, unless the character is actively admiring, or scrutinizing, the decor:
  • As the person is active in the room, they run their hands over things like the brocade on the chaise lounge.
  • When they tell someone else to sit, it could be noted they made the choice of where to place the person based on potential comfort level.
  • If the character lies on the bed naked, the satin sheets could feel cool on the skin.
  • While they're being made to wait, they can then notice one thing about the room and scrutinize it to give their brain a distraction.
There are several ways of describing a room's contents without going into infodump mode, as you can see above. Unless you're actively trying to slow the story down, is it really necessary to tell the reader everything that's in a common room (bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen, etc...)?

I think, perhaps, we should give our readers a little credit and assume they have brains in their heads. If I read that someone is sitting at the bar in the kitchen, I have a pretty good idea of what that room will look like.

I've gone into description and when it's useful in this post, and I went into how to paint the scene in this post. If you're looking to heighten tension with description, here's a post I wrote a while back that breaks it down (this post also compares showing and telling).

What do you think? Do you expect a more active participation from your readers, or do you spoon feed them all the things?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

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