So this post is going to be a sort of follow-up of the ideas I expressed in my last post, "When Your Imagination Is 'Wrong'", so if you haven't read that yet click the link and go do that.
A lot of the time when I'm writing or editing, I find that one of my biggest problems is with description. I have this frantic urge to describe EVERYTHING with perfect, insane detail. I'll use multiple sentences just to describe the walls of a room; I'll use a boatload of adjectives to describe a single action. I'll spend tons of time trying to put onto paper everything I see in my head, because I want the reader to see what I see.
And this, I've come to realize, is stupid. Why? Well...
REASONS WHY WANTING THE READER TO SEE WHAT YOU SEE IS STUPID
Reason #1: The reader will NEVER see what you see.
Everyone is different, therefore everyone has a different imagination, therefore everyone pictures things in books differently. Have you ever looked up "fan casts" for certain books? Everyone has a different idea of who the actor should be for which character, based on how they picture the character themselves.
For example, a lot of people pictured Peeta like this:
While I picture Peeta more like this (although now that I look at them both, they look reaaally similar):
Just go read the comments on my last post... even though characters are clearly described a certain way, people picture them differently. What's the point of describing something obsessively if your readers aren't even going to picture what you describe?
Reason #3: Imaginations don't need a lot of help to imagine stuff.
In one of the first Harry Potter books, I remember J.K. Rowling described the Gryffindor common room in about one sentence, and the gist of it was "there were some cushy armchairs." There was barely any description at all, and yet I had a perfectly formed, complete and detailed picture of the Gryffindor common room. J.K. Rowling gave me a sentence, and my imagination did the rest.
Reason #4: An author's book, as I said in my last post, does not belong to the author. It belongs to the reader.
So if you want the reader to see what YOU see, you're being like my nine-year-old egotistic author self that I talked about in my last post. You should just let the reader see what they see, whether it's the same as your vision or not, and be cool with that.
So, as far as description goes, I have learned that you really don't need as many words as you think you do.
Just look at this description-overloaded sentence of some story of mine I wrote years and years ago:
She raised her glistening silver sword into the thick black night.
The note in my edits beside this was: "adj. much???"
And now, in conclusion I shall provide you with this summary:
1. Imaginations are cool.
2. Less words are cool.
3. Books belong to their readers.
4. I used to be in love with adjectives, and that was a mistake.
And a really good example of awesome, minimal description (oh my goodness, more adjectives - apparently I am not yet over them) is the book Sold by Patricia McCormick... which is an awesome, compelling book that you should really add to your TBR list.
Oh and follow me on twitter! @AlyssaSherlock. Have a great day.