Don't Overdo Your Descriptions

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Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing

Beginning writers, especially those who write historical fiction, have a tendency to overdo their settings and descriptions. This is understandable, as they've usually spent a great deal of time in research. They want to pack every bit of information in, thinking this will grab the reader's interest and draw her into the story.

But the very opposite is the case. Readers are not interested in the setting or the details per se. They are, first and always, interested in the characters. As Sinclair Lewis used to say, "When I want to learn about the Azores, I'll read the National Geographic, not a novel!"

Avoid, then, the descriptive dump. That is when all the description is given at once, then the story picks up again. While on occasion, especially at the opening of scenes, you can put in a relatively full description, it's more often the better choice to "marble" the description in during the action.

The way to do this is to put the description in the character's point of view and use the details to add to the mood.