A discussion on character description at Romancing the Blog has me thinking about description in general.
I generally find it irritating.
I come from a theatre background, and I know the importance of a well-designed, well-dressed set. The audience can tell at one glance that they’re about to see something about the rich and famous, the used-to-be-rich, or adventures with Bubba and Billy Joe at the Dew Drop Inn.
I wonder if it’s that background that causes me to dislike excessive description. I’m used to seeing the set quickly, and getting right into the action. As beautiful as the house may be, I care more about the occupants.
Of course, a person’s house can say a lot about him or her. I certainly wouldn’t want to read, “The house was clean,” and that was it. But an immaculate house can mean one of two things: she just cleaned, knowing company was coming, or she’s an OCD clean freak. And that’s only going to come out in bits and pieces during the story, so why dump a bunch of visuals in one sitting?
I liked the movies well enough, but cannot read Tom Clancy without getting bored. He could take twenty pages to tell you about a paper clip. I just barely got through the beginning pages of Hardy’s Return of the Native- geez, that guy must have gotten paid for every gallon of ink he went through. The pastoral scenery was beautiful at first, but after awhile it’s just a hill, okay?
I think description works best when a place is seen through the eyes of a character, and everything comes through that filter. Depending on where we came from, what we’re used to, and what’s important to us, we’ll all have a different reaction to what we see. A poor man might be intimidated by the halls of a mansion; a new mother will spot potential baby-harming hazards; the aforementioned clean freak will notice any tiny bit of clutter. Which is why she’d never want to come to my house. *rimshot*
What about you? A tour guidebook or a snapshot?