Friday, October 28, 2005

Descriptive Writing

One thing that I don’t tend to do that much in my writing is description. I tend to be very bare-bones with my descriptions, and leave everything up to the readers’ imaginations. So it’s always interesting when I read a book where the author has done a lot of description—and some writers really seem to get into it.

Take this example, from The Chancellor Manuscript, by Robert Ludlum. Right away, from page 1, he launches into a lengthy piece of description about a character:

The dark-haired man stared at the wall in front of him. His chair, like the rest of the furniture, was pleasing to the eye but not made for comfort. The style was Early American, the theme Spartan, as if those about to be granted an audience with the occupant of the inner office should reflect on their awesome opportunity in stern surroundings.

The man was in his late twenties, his face angular, the features sharp, each pronounced and definite as if carved by a crafstman more aware of details than the whole. It was a face in quiet conflict with itself, striking and yet unsettled. The eyes were engaging, deep set, and very light blue, with an open, even questioning quality about them. They seemed at the moment to be the eyes of a blue-eyed animal, swift to level in any direction, steady, apprehensive.

The young man’s name was Peter Chancellor, and the expression on his face was as rigid as his posture in the chair. His eyes were angry.

There was one other person in the outer office: a middle-aged secretary whose thin, colourless lips were set in constant tension, her grey hair stretched and spun into a bun that took on the appearance of a faded flaxen helmet. She was the Praetorian Guard, the attack dog who protected the sanctuary of the main behind the oak door beyond her desk.


When I’m reading a book and see passages like this, I always think to myself “I would never have written something like that”. It’s not that I think the writing is good or bad—just that it’s not what I do, because I don’t include very much description in my fiction writing. It seems to indicate a real comfort and joy with the written word on the part of the author, that I don’t know if my writing shows.

I don’t think it’s wrong to write with very little description; as I said, I think it’s good to leave things up to the imaginations of the readers. But at the same time, I also can’t help but wonder if my writing is lacking, because there isn’t any (or much) description.

Incidentally, it may or may not be legal for me to include that huge section of the book on my blog; but since this isn’t exactly a highly-trafficked site, I doubt they’ll come after me. And if they do, I’ll just take it down...