The job of a writer is not to describe a story the way you would describe an object to a blind person. If the main character is wearing a blue cardigan and you describe the blue cardigan so the reader now knows exactly what kind of blue cardigan it is, so what? What difference does that make?
The task is not to make sure the reader can see what happens in the story, it’s to make sure they can understand what happens in the story.
To some degree, in order to understand what’s going on you have to be able to see it, but not all things you see add to your unerstandung. Too much description will become overwhelming and be blinding rather than illuminating.
If a woman gets ready to go to work and you very exactly and clearly describe her shoes, unless the shoes play a part in the story (which they might) then the description is pointless. The fact you’re good at describing shoes is not a good enough reason.
But what if the kind of shoes she wears, the condition she keeps them in, all give a better indication of her character and who she is?
Any time you make a considered choice about a description, where you have a purpose behind it, then it becomes part of the story. And you will find that as soon as you do that the description of the shoes changes. In order for it to have meaning, you have to give it meaning, and once you start doing that you will make specific choices that reflect the character’s unique preferences.
A woman going to work in nice shoes turns into bright red pumps that are shiny and immaculate, which she puts in her bag and then puts on sneakers with her Donna Karen business suit and heads off to the subway.
You also have to take into consideration if the meaning your imparting has already been made. If I describe a man getting into an Armani suit, does me telling you the kind of shoes he wears add to that? The same information repeated rarely does.
Generally the only times detailed descriptions are necessary are when it is key to the plot, it gives insight into the character, or if it’s something the reader won’t be familiar with. We all know what a tree looks like, there’s no need to wax lyrical about its plentiful leaves as our hero walks past the one outside his house. But the carnivorous magnolia tree found in the Amazon jungle might not be quite as familiar and require a few words about the branches bearing teeth.
The link between what you tell the reader and what they need to know should be a strong one. It doesn’t have to be absolute, or obvious, or only dealing with the main storyline, there’s always room for some leeway. It doesn’t matter what your reasons are, that’s a matter of personal preference. But the things you describe in details should be chosen deliberately becasue they mean something, not just to add arbitrary background information.
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