Recently on a Facebook page there started a thread about the descriptions in novels written earlier compared to those written today. Now I’ve never really been a show stopper but my post ended the thread pretty abruptly. What had seemed pretty obvious to me had flown past the other authors in the group. The authors were commenting about how long the descriptions were in early novels and wondered why the authors included them. One of my favorite pre-me novels is The Count of Monte Cristo, a tale of revenge against four conspirators who had young Edmund Dantes wrongly imprisoned in the Château d'If as a Bonapartist just before Napoleon escapes from Elba. It is full of elegant description of each important setting, garment, etc. It is a novel with a word count of 464,450. If you want to see a movie version which is mostly true to the novel don’t watch the one made in 2011. Instead watch the version made in 1975 with Richard Chamberlain, Trevor Howard, Louis Jourdan and Tony Curtis.
Enough movie plugging. About descriptions. In this day and age we haven’t the need to write long detailed descriptions of the settings for people to understand what the scene looks like. Nor do we need to describe items. We are familiar with almost anything, and other than bringing specific notice to a particular item or setting the reader becomes board with all that prose. We can picture a castle, a covered wagon, an ancient Roman soldier, the bridge of a space ship. We’ve seen them in photos, in the movies or on television. Most of the space ships I read about look a lot like the Voyager Star Ship from the TV series.
Before the 1920’s when moving pictures became available in theaters the vast majority of people had no idea what something outside of their own town or area looked like. Reading was the only way for them to experience other cultures, landscapes, towns, building, dress, items, etc. A person living in England had no notion of what a Conestoga wagon looked like, or a buffalo or indian teepee, just as someone living on the Iowa plains didn’t know what the crowds of New York City residents were. It was part of the author’s job to bring into the reader’s mind what each detail of the setting looked like.
This was especially true with the new genre of Science Fiction. Anyone who’s read Jules Verne today will note the descriptions of the machines used in his works. His amazing mind envisioned many of the items later invented even using concepts not yet codified.
Description today isn’t needed since we live in a more visually experienced world. Thus the reader can ‘see’ without words the wagon train moving slowing across the Nebraska plains, the jet skirting the mountain tops, the treasure chest dug from the sand. Today’s reader is wanting to jump into the action of the tale with the bare minimum of descriptive prose framing. Writing, as with everything else, is changing with the world. Use what description you need without overdoing it and thus turning your reader away from your work.
Sophie Dawson writes Christian fiction mostly of the Historical genre. She lives with her husband and cat in rural western Illinois. Her Cottonwood Series novels have been Indie Book of the Day and Healing Love received first place in the genre in AuthorStand.com’s 2012 contest and a second in eLit 2012 contest. Sophie blogs one a week on her website sophie-dawson.com as well as barndoor.net in edition to AuthorCulture.com. With three books in the works she hopes to have them released by June 2013.
Linda Apple is the author of Writing From Your Soul, Writing Life ~ Your Stories Matter, Connect ~ A Simple Guide to Public Speaking for Writers, POW; Promises Kept and Women Of Washington Avenue, her debut novel and the first book in her Moonlight Mississippi series. Her personal experience stories have been published in 16 of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her devotions have been published in numerous devotion magazines and books. She lives in Fayetteville Arkansas with her husband, Neal, their five children, five children-in-love, and ten grandchildren.
Jody Bailey Day writes inspirational fiction from west Texas. Her debut novel, Washout Express, released June 2013 from Harbourlight Books. Her short stories, poems, devotionals, and articles have appeared in Mature Living, Splickety Magazine, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Southern Writers Magazine, and Christiandevotions.us, She is a two time Grand Prize Winner at the East Texas Christian Writers Conference, and a Faithwriters.com Best of the Best award winner. She and her pastor husband have six grown children and nine grandchildren.
Deborah Dee Harper writes from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by way of Michigan, Kentucky, Alaska, Mississippi, and Alaska (again). Deb is a graduate of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild classes and writes Christian humorous and inspirational books for both children and adults. Her children’s adventure series, Laramie on the Lam, available in both e-book and print, is being re-published as six individual print books. Her Road’s End series (Misstep, Faux Pas, and Misjudge) for adults is also contracted and should be published soon. She is currently nearing completion on the first book of another series. She is represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency.
Lisa Lickel is an award-winning multi-published inspirational novelist, blogger, reviewer, and writing mentor. A freelance editor, Lisa loves all things historical. Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest and Christian Fiction Online.
Liberty Speidel has been a voracious reader since reading her first Nancy Drew book. But she was telling stories long before then with her figurines from Disney's Rescue Rangers. When she's not writing, you may find her gardening, baking, crocheting, or hiking. A lifelong Kansan, she now resides in the Kansas City metro area with her husband, children, and chocolate Labrador, where she could rival Captain Jean Luc Picard in consumption of Earl Grey tea. She is the author of Emergence, Retaliation, and Capitulation, novellas and novels in her series featuring superhuman and police detective Darby Shaw.
Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he earned a PhD in English literature (Renaissance) and for eighteen years taught literature at two liberal arts colleges. His poetry has appeared in leading journals and is collected in his book Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond.His fiction includes a light-hearted mystery, Rhapsody in Red, and two suspense novels, Deadly Addictive and The Lazarus File, and a historical romance, Lightning on a Quiet Night. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ groups and conferences. He lives near Houston, TX, where he continues to write fiction and poetry, as well as essays on writing, ethical issues, and U.S. foreign policy.
Editor/Author Linda Yezak lives with her husband in a forest in east Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. She is a speaker/lecturer for various writers' groups and conferences. Her fiction books include Give the Lady a Ride, The Final Ride, and The Cat Lady's Secret. Her nonfiction books include Writing in Obedience, co-written with retired Hartline Literary agent Terry Burns. "Slider," her historical short-story, won Honorable Mention in The Saturday Evening Post's Great American Fiction contest and is published in their 2016 Anthology.
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