Friday, November 21, 2008

Let The Reader Fill In The Blanks

“For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.” -- Stephen King in On Writing.
I read a few of my published short-short stories before writing this post to review how I handled the descriptions. In one, all I said was that the husband sat on the edge of a hospital bed. In another, a woman was on her hands and knees on the kitchen floor. I’d decided that was enough about the setting to let the reader fill in the blanks. My first published story contained a detailed description of a couple’s kitchen. The husband and wife craved ice cream and had redone their kitchen to look like an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. In this case, I felt the details showed the depth of their obsession.

I took the same approach with my characters. I didn’t provide details for the homeless lady, except to say she kept her belongings in a grocery cart. I assumed my readers had seen this person, or had their own idea of what she looked like. In another story, the protagonist was a thief dressed as a homeless person. I provided minimum information about her costume, but showed the reader her entire outfit as she took off the street clothes. I felt the details of how she really dressed showed the reader a lot about the character.

It's hard to know how much description is enough. As I write more, and pay attention to the feedback I receive, I hope to get a better sense of what to include and what to leave out.

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