Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tell Me About It

When I first started writing fanfic I totally neglected my surroundings.  I didn't describe in intimate detail what color the walls were painted or what the room smelled like.  I didn't even let my readers know whether or not my characters were wearing anything at all.  Then I started to see that maybe I needed to pay attention to these things and I started working on my descriptions.  It's actually a fun yet frustrating exercise in my opinion.  I do think, when done right, it can add to a story - sometimes even add volumes to a story.  But after one particular chapter of one of my fics, I told Zyra that I thought that I was describing too much now.  And that I thought I had gone overboard trying to compensate in an area that I thought I had been lacking in.

So.  How much is too much?  How little is not enough?

I don't have the answers here, so I hope you aren't eagerly waiting for them.  I have thought about it though and I think I've gotten to a comfortable place for me, anyway.  If we are strictly talking about SW fanfic (which I think we are), I think if you have your characters in a new situation/time period then maybe you need to give a little description of the surroundings and what they are wearing.

For instance, if you are writing Han and Leia and it is set in the time frame of the movies and they are on the Millennium Falcon, do we really need a description of what the inside of the Falcon looks like?  Definitely not.  Unless, it is through one of the characters eyes and it gives a glimpse of their state of mind or triggers a memory or something like that.  But we don't need a Martha Stewart description of the wall color and flooring.  Am I right?  But if you are in a different time or place, say Han and Leia are married and living in an apartment/house (see above pic).  Well, then you might want to clue your readers in to what things look like and if maybe Han is still wearing the same pants.

I definitely think descriptions, when you are using them, should add to the characters.  We shouldn't be more worried about what Leia's dress is made out of but how does she feel in it?  Or how does the silkiness of the fabric make Han feel about the woman that is wearing it?  Same with the surroundings.  Not so much what they look like, but what do they look like to the characters or what do they make the characters think of?  Does the white couch in their new apartment remind Han of the fight they had about him keeping his shoes off of it?  Does it remind Leia of when they made up from that fight? 

I still think I have a lot of room for improvement in my descriptive areas, I guess that's why I thought this was a good topic to discuss.  I do feel like I am still trying to find the right balance of setting the stage for my reader but not sounding like a set/costume designer.  And I didn't even really delve into sounds and smells, but I think they should follow the same logic.

What do y'all think?


  1. I think the problem with fanfic is that we already know what the characters look like and what a lot of the backgrounds look like, depending on where you're setting your story. So it's easy to let it go. We don't think to tell anyone that Hoth his a vast, snowy planet because we can already picture it in our heads and don't think to describe it. Same with Tatooine. Do we need to tell you it's sandy there? As for Han's clothes, we can really almost only picture him in one outfit so I'd say that gets left out too. It's like pointing out Threepio is gold, it just feels superfluous.

    But of course we do need to have some description in there and not neglect it too much. I know I tend to let it go. You make good points on not just showing what people are wearing but how it might feel to the wearer or someone seeing them. On a new planet it's good to set the surroundings so we know how it looks, but also maybe how it feels, breezy or cool or warm and maybe if the air smells like the ocean or woods or whatever. It just really helps immerse the reader in the scene. Of course it's not necessary to decribe every tree or rock or whatever, and sometimes the setting isn't truly important to the scene, so you just have to kind of figure out what's enough.

    That said, I know that sometimes when I write a scene I can clearly picture it in my head and just neglect that others might not automatically see it that way unless I TELL them that's how it looks. I think a lot of us could use more descriptions.

  2. I kind of wonder if I describe things TOO much...I mean, most of the planets in my current story aren't from the movies or EU, just my own head, so I feel like I should describe them...BUT, on the other hand, does anyone really care about my original planets? Maybe not.

    I don't really describe the characters much, except when and where their physical description differs from canon. I think I describe Leia's hair sometimes, because her hair can sometimes indicate her mood (doesn't she seem happier and more relaxed when it isn't braided up QUITE so tightly?)

    I think you've got the basic idea, describe things that would stick out to the characters in that particular scene. I don't think we really care what someone's wearing or what color the walls are for the sake of those details themselves, but if they help to set the scene and let readers know how the characters are thinking and feeling, it can really help us feel like we're there.

    I guess the problem is that that's not really a black-and-white kind of rule, and it's hard to tell sometimes how much is too much and how much is not enough.

  3. I love doing descriptions, I think it's my favorite thing to write, but I tend to get carried away sometimes only focusing on one thing. Sometimes to the point I ignore everything else. I end up having cut them down a lot. I don't know how well I do adding to my characters though. And I think I totally don't think to describe their clothing...ever. I think because like Zyra said, you assume everyone knows what they look like.

  4. I talk too much. thus I over describe everything. always. my usual problem is getting around to the actual moving along of plot.

    just me though :-)