I have a confession to make: when I read books, I tend to skip through large swaths of text. It started when I was a kid, reading fantasy novels. I adore fantasy novels. But without fail, every fantasy author I have ever read has spent a tremendous amount of time describing things. Now, when you are creating a world mostly from scratch, there are a lot of new things to describe. World-building takes a lot of time (as I am learning, since I am now writing a contemporary fantasy novel), and authors want to make sure that effort shows in their book.
And while I know there are readers who really appreciate those long, detailed passages that describe all the unique things of that magical new world, I am not one of them. I find myself skimming, searching out the gist of whatever is being described — the character likes fancy clothing or the home is drafty and cold — and then move on to dialogue and action. Sometimes I have to go back and actually read something I’ve skimmed through because I’ve missed something important, but mostly I can get away with skipping entire paragraphs without missing anything significant.
This is not just a fantasy and science fiction problem either — I have ready plenty of mysteries where characters are described like the author is working with a sketch artist, and romances where the heroine’s wardrobe has gotten more page-space than the love scenes.
I should say that I have never not enjoyed a book because I skipped over the long descriptions — in fact, some of the best lines I have ever read have been in those passages (when I have read them). They just tend to interfere with my primary driving force as a reader — to find out what happens next.
Now that I am trying to create a new world, I find myself writing those same long passages that describe everything. And honestly, I have been wondering just how much I have to actually include — and how much I can get away with leaving out. It is an essential question for every writer — how much can you trust the reader to fill in the blanks?
I know there is no one-size-fits-all level of description that will satisfy every reader, and certainly I may be on the far side of the spectrum in the number of scenes I gloss over. And while there probably are more writers not writing enough vivid description, I also don’t want to be one of those writers that overdoes it either. But it’s a hard balance to achieve.
But, since I am making my confession, I should also make my apologies. To most every author I have ever read, even the ones I loved — I am sorry for not actually reading all the words you wrote. I am sure they were amazing words. Gorgeous descriptions. Pure poetry. I likely skipped your best lines.
But I probably loved your book, anyway.