They say August is a very slow month for “traffic” (internet traffic) (I’m not sure who the ominous “they” are), probably because after weeks of summer heat (at least here the Midwest) our brains are just mushy-mush.
At least mine is feeling like that at this very moment as I sit on the floor in the afternoon, hot light coming in, alternating between writing this blog and browsing ThredUp (shhhh. Don’t tell my sister I’m looking at jean jackets). Why am I browsing ThredUp instead of writing this blog? I’ll tell you. First, there are like 300 pages of grey sweaters in my size, so there’s that. But secondly, I don’t actually have anything good to say.
I started querying this week (but you all heard about that) and unless you want to hear me talk about cart traffic in the aisles of Target or just how hot it is in this room right now (nearing Mordor) –
Actually there is something I want to talk about. Description.
I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings (I honestly don’t know how many times I have read it) and while we can all joke about Tolkien’s book length descriptions of trees or the geography of a bog, there is something he moves very quickly through.
(I’m not talking about how long a character talks for. I’m fairly sure Gandalf talks for like five pages in the Council of Elrond.)
And I’ve noticed this with a lot of “classical” authors (or “old” authors if you prefer that). Descriptions certainly go on for far longer than they do now-a-days (these young whippersnappers), but not everything “back then” was described in vast detail. Most importantly, dialogue wasn’t (at least in the books that are on my mind).
Most conversations happened with very little dialogue tags. Tolkien and Dickens I’m thinking about in particular right now (my most recent classic reads) (it’s very weird for me to label The Lord of the Rings as a classic, it just IS), and the conversations are rapid fire. There is little stopping to describe the character, how they are saying something, what they are thinking etc.
So as much as we go on about the lengthy descriptions of the authors in “ye olden days” they didn’t just describe everything with heedless abandon: they were choosy. And we should be choosy too. And dialogue really should speak for itself (see what I did there?? See??? Ok I’ll shut up now).
While you don’t want a whole page of just people talking (you still need tags, action beats, etc.) we might not need as much as we think. In other words, your character doesn’t need to roll their eye, nod, smirk, stick their tongue in their cheek, or sigh every five seconds. (Yes, some of this is directed at yours truly.)
It’s that balance on the edge of a knife between setting the scene for your reader (you know, actually telling them a story) and becoming annoying and boring. Because while it would make sense that more description would lead a reader deeper into the story, it can actually do the opposite and make the story more impersonal, pushing them out instead of drawing them in.
Ok. Well it is very hot and I want to go eat…an orange…or something.
Yes. Yes I’m leaving. Have a good weekend. Wear a mask. Live long and prosper.