Monday, May 11, 2009

Cut to the Chase

sunThe bright yellow-gold orb rose in the eastern cerulean sky, bathing the vast emerald valley in brilliant, dazzling light. Tall, majestic, ancient oaks and gnarled, weather-beaten baobab trees drank it in  under the watchful eyes of a lone tar-black starling circling high in the thermals. The steamy heat, already approaching triple digits, would become unfathomingly oppressive in just a few short hours. Sinewy Dirk Sampson, prone on the redolent earth behind a fallen, termite-decimated log, focused his laser attention on the Herculean task at hand. He mentally calculated how many hard, lethal, lead bullets it would take to completely annihilate the tribe of head-shrinking pygmies gathering along the dark, muddy riverbanks below. He hefted his heavy, precision-made, semi-automatic machine gun, but before he aimed it at the largest group of malevolent antagonists, he noticed a sprawling anthill to his left. Thousands of tiny, industrious insects scurried along, their brittle exoskeletons glistening...


Recently, a question regarding description popped up on one of Absolute Write's writing forums. How much physical description is too much?

I'm more of a minimalist when I write. Here's how I'd be tempted to revise the above paragraph:

Dirk Sampson picked up his AK-47 and started blasting those bloodthirsty pygmies.

I strive to use the bare minimum I can get away with, while still giving the reader a clear picture of the characters' physical surroundings. I like the challenge of trying to sum up the setting in a sentence or two (or just a few words, if possible). I guess I do this because I find reading large chunks of description to be tedious and boring. I'd rather read about something actually happening! (I prefer just about anything over in-depth descriptions of sunrises/sunsets, foliage, clothing, food, or submarines.**) Submarine Clipart

I had a writing instructor*** who always reminded us to include "conflict on every page." (I'm pretty sure she never said, "Put purple prose on every page.")

Another great writer--Elmore Leonard, I believe--says he "leaves out the parts people skip over." For me, that usually means cutting down on the physical description. And I must say, I don't miss it.

Writers, what are the "boring parts" you leave out?


*Note to critique group members: If I ever submit something like this, please hit me upside the head with a large, heavy, majestic, precision-made, fire-engine-red pen (figuratively).

**I think Clancy's The Hunt for Red October would have been better without all the description of the nuts and bolts (literally).

***Thanks, Noreen Wald!


1 comment:

Ricky Bush said...

Yah, I'm with you on this one, Alan. Anyway--