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Good description?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Byeol, May 29, 2011.

  1. Byeol

    Byeol New Member

    I'm decent at writing dialogue and action. Unfortunately, I have a lot of trouble describing my alien worlds to the reader without forcing it into the story. I understand the easy way out is to have a protagonist who was sheltered and/or living isolated from the rest of the world, but what about when your characters are well-educated or well-traveled members of society? How do you work in the minute details without making it obvious?
  2. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    By doing just that: working them in. Don't explain, don't try to cover everything: just throw them in as they would normally bring themselves to the attention of the character. Since you say "alien" worlds, I'm going to take the easy way out and create a SF rather than a fantasy example:

    The moons cast tangent shadows behind her as she neared the pressure door, slicksuit still dripping from another long slog through nightside mist. Decontamination, a shower–real water: about the only amenity the station did have–and, finally! bed… once she prodded her relief out of it, at least. Let Arvind go chasing stray samplers for a while, for a change: he could use the exercise. Maybe, maybe a nutri-pack before sacking out. Though at the moment, it seemed like more effort than it was worth… all her knees ached something fierce.

    Consider how much information got packed into that one short segment. Anything critical to the plot can be expanded upon as it arises; the rest can just be left as backdrop, and let the reader work up his own images.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  3. Heavy Thorn

    Heavy Thorn Dreamer

    A truly first-class response, Ravana. Couldn't have said it better myself.

    I often use Star Wars as an example for this type of discussion. Nobody in Star Wars ever explains how hyperspace works. The typical writer would have Han explain to Luke, "Well, this particular fuel combines with this crystal and..." And then both of them would look stupid, and hyperspace would be boring.

    The way it plays out as is, they talk about hyperspace from the point of both being familiar with it. This makes them seem more intelligent, and makes hyperspace a little more cool.

    When the Force was finally explained away scientifically in The Phantom Menace, it lost every bit of mystery and magic that surrounded the initial mythical idea.

    The fact is, your readers really don't need to know all about the Monks who live atop Mount Exposition. If you say your character got his sword from them, that's interesting enough in and of itself.

    The way I try to write is as if the world is our own world. I don't explain things in my real-world stories unless they're central to the plot, and I do the same for my fantasy works. Pretend your readers already know the world. It makes it feel less constructed, and more real.
  4. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    Yes, excellent example Ravana.
  5. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    Ravana's example is great. :) A few things I might suggest, as well. If you have some important item - I'll use an example from my story and go with red coal - you can find a way to mention it before it is important, when it would be easier to slip it into the narrative unobtrusively. Red coal, in my world, is a coal that never stops burning, and it is created by dragons who attempt to use their fire to burn coal (and dragon's fire cannot light coal at all). I need all of that information for the sake of the story, but I don't want to have to drop it. So I include short scenes like, "Desdemona* let out a roar and a breathe of fire, turning all of the coal in the furnace red.", and "Algernon shoveled the flaming coal out of the furnace and into the ravine." (And no, those aren't actual examples, I just came up with something here. :p) It doesn't say much, but when I do need to introduce them in full, you have a bit of background on this world's coal. I can keep any description I need to a short sentence or less, as opposed to a juicy sentence or two.

    * One of the characters is from Earth and he named all of the dragons in the party after Shakespeare characters. :p
  6. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    All: thank you. :eek:

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