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Thread: Description, how much and the quality?

  1. #1
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    Default Description, how much and the quality?

    Description is something I struggle with, say a character is traveling somewhere. You have to throw in some description of the world around them as well while they are going to their destination. Because the character can't just miraculously arrive from point A to point B so quickly. I have trouble making my description fun to read, I want it be very entertaining as actual dialogue. Not a simple line that people read and want to move on from, but I don't think I write nearly enough description regarding the characters, their clothes, their Pokemon, the world, et cetera as I should. So, how many lines of description do you usual write? Do you harp on making lines entertaining to read? When do you think you have things right and down pack?

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    This is a tough question to answer because it depends a lot on circumstances. In some cases, you can get away with describing only a handful of details; in others, you need every last detail possible. My own rule of thumb goes like this: if it's necessary for the character to know, include it in the work. As in, if I know you're going to have difficulties visualizing the scene I want you to have in mind without a detail or if the detail itself is plot relevant in some way (e.g., maybe a character's eye color is actually a Chekhov's gun or maybe I'm trying to get across a completely alien world), I'm going to make sure you know it. If I think you'll get by just fine without it (e.g., I normally don't think you need to know exactly what pattern is on the shirts my characters are wearing), I leave it out because it'll just bog you down.

    One way of keeping the story from wandering off on details that won't be necessary to know is to link them in the narration. For example, if I want to write about a forest, I might start the scene just by saying, "The characters arrived in the forest at nightfall." Right off the bat, you imagine trees and darkness because it's a forest and because it's at night, right? From there, I might have a line of dialogue, followed by a character looking around nervously at the black, leafless trees towering around him. That way, the flow of the story isn't stopped, but you pick up another detail about the forest (that it's full of black, leafless trees). I might include a pause in the conversation in which the characters strain their ears and hear the distant chirping of insects, which means you get another detail about the woods that way too, and if I say they kept their weary eyes on the winding path ahead of them, you get another one.

    Point is, you don't have to convey all your details in one go, either. You can drop them where they fit into the actual action of the story, and if they don't fit at all, chances are your readers can get by without knowing that particular detail. It's always a good thing to spread your descriptions out across your narration as well, not only because you want to avoid infodumping as much as possible but also because that's what a lot of experienced reviewers mean when they tell you to add more detail. As in, there might be a lack of them besides your infodumping paragraph, so you need to add more into the rest of the scene (or spread out details from that paragraph into the lines after it).

    Yeah, it's a bit of a vague and confusing topic. Not to mention, it's difficult to give you advice without looking at a scene and telling you whether or not you nailed it, unfortunately, but hopefully, all of this might point you in the right direction.

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  3. #3
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    I think there's a whole debate about this going on, and there's really no advice to give.

    A good description can be something really vague or a ultra-detailed scenario. It really depends on how you put it, a good, detailed description is not twenty lines long, you can group a good scene within a line or two. And also, depends on your writing style and how you feel more comfortable, while keeping a good flow in the story and not jumping from point A to point B suddenly.

    But when there really is no other choice, I see no problem in describing characters walking from a point to other in complete silence, while describing the place in which they walk.

    Good luck with your work bro!!!
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    Ah, description. The bane of every writer's existence.

    Well, not really.

    I'm of the mind that you should describe characters as much as you can. Actually, one of my pet peeves as a reader is when a writer fails to provide good descriptions for main characters. Your readers, in their minds' eye, are going to be spending a lot of time with your main characters, and that won't be nearly as enjoyable as it could if they have no earthly idea what they look like. I just read a fic recently where, in my opinion, it was very well written almost everywhere else. But the writer hadn't given a very good physical description of the protagonist other than being female and in her mid-teens. I'm not saying you have to 'get out the measuring tape' every time.

    "He was about five-foot-eight and about two hundred pounds..."
    Not like that. First of all, your readers are 'looking' at these characters in their minds' eye, and the naked eye can't often get a being's height down to the inch. But if your protagonist is five-foot-six and you've already mentioned that, you could say:

    "The man was taller than [insert protagonist name or appropriate pronoun here], but not by much. His belly and waist, however, were quite large indeed, giving him the appearance of a clothed bowling ball."
    You just invoked an image in your readers' heads - and maybe produced a chuckle or two out of it as well. But maybe this not-so-tall dude isn't fat. Maybe he's very muscular.

    "The man was taller than [insert protagonist name or appropriate pronoun here], but not by much. His clothes [maybe describe those in a bit of detail as well] seemed to be straining to contain him, particularly around his ham-like arms, which bulged against his tight shirt as if trying to escape."
    Now, maybe he turns out to be friendly. That doesn't make him any less intimidating when it looks like he's physically capable of ripping you apart with his bare hands.

    "...He proffered one of his huge hands and [protagonist name] hesitated, sincerely hoping [his/her] own hand wouldn't be crushed."
    As for describing locations, use the senses. Let's say, for the sake of argument, your character's at a beach. What would they see at a beach? Well, probably sand and water, so describe those. Maybe a Pokemon like a Krabby or a Corphish scuttling out of view, or a lily-white, beady-eyed Wingull spotting your human character and taking to the air to avoid them?

    What would they hear? Probably the sounds of waves breaking on the sand. If it's a crowded beach, probably the shouts of little kids playing. A couple of Pokemon cries, more than likely - maybe there are a whole flock of Wingull circling over the water.

    What about smell? The sea's a possibility. Maybe there's a hot dog stand somewhere nearby and they're catching a whiff of that.

    What about touch/feeling? There may be a slight breeze blowing in from the water. If it's usual beach weather, it's probably warm, so you may want to mention that as well. Or maybe this poor character doesn't have any sandals, so they're sort of bouncing up and down on their toes to avoid standing on the painfully hot sand. Conversely, maybe they made the decision to wear shoes to the beach and they're now regretting it because the grit has gotten down inside them. Maybe they're standing right at the edge of the water, just close enough for them to feel the grit of the sand before the cooling rush of the sea washed over their feet.

    And then, after you're done with those five senses, you might want to add a 'sixth sense', if you will. I believe the technical term for it is called pathos, but I like to call it "soul." Oftentimes, a place can evoke emotional feelings as much as physical sensation. Maybe your character was from Slateport or something, and this distant beach on another continent reminded them of home. Maybe, though, the beach reminds them of a close friend or older relative that's no longer alive, but loved the beach. So maybe it makes them a bit sad. Maybe your character's an introvert that's been dragged out there by his more extroverted friends and (s)he doesn't want to be there around all the crowds, so (s)he's a little bit irritated.


    To make a long story short, description is the art (not so much a science) of painting pictures with words. I'm not entirely sure that anyone completely masters it - I know I've been writing fanfiction for almost a decade and don't consider myself to have 'mastered' it. But it's a necessary part of the writing experience. So my tips are:

    1: Give description liberally until it starts to affect the pace. Avoid either extreme. A story without description is a glorified script. But if you bog yourself down with describing every single detail of every person, place, or thing that goes into your story, it will slow the pace of your poor fanfic to a crawl. I'll let you in on a little secret - one that I found out the hard way over the last eight years. A lot of the readers around this forum in particular are going to be in their teens and maybe early twenties. (A 22-year-old like myself still hanging around the forums is probably considered to be a tad bit on the old side.) Attention spans in teens and young adults aren't always that long. Most of the regulars around the Fan Fiction forums will obviously like to read and/or write, so you've got that going for you. But it is possible to slow the pace of the story down far too much, so be careful.

    2: Read. It's probably obvious, and you've probably heard it a thousand times, but I can't stress this enough. Maybe not Pokemon fanfiction - maybe even not fanfiction or fiction at all. But read. The only way for a painter to expand his palette is to go out and find more colors. Your skill at description can only go as far as your vocabulary takes you. In reading, you find not just new words, but new ways to use words - metaphors, similes, turns of phrase.

    3: Write. Sure, you can figure out the theory of description and a lot of the other nuances of writing from reading what other people wrote, but there's only one way to find out what works - and perhaps, more importantly, what works for you - and that's trial and freaking error. I've been active on Serebii forums for the better part of eight years and I've been writing for most of that. So I've tried a lot of things and made a lot of errors. Heck, they're still on the forums for the world to see if you want to look at them. I started writing the first fic on that list below this post in 2003, when I was 13 years old. After I got to about Chapter 23 or 24 of that fic, I dropped it for another. Then a busted computer forced me off the forum for a year and I came back. I started the second one in 2006 - I was 16 and just starting college (and no, that's not a typo. PM me for the story - it's really quite interesting). So I've written a lot, done a lot of things, gotten better at this by screwing up and having good friends tell me where I screwed up.

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  5. #5
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    You're gonna hear a lot of different things about description because there are a lot of approaches and opinions about it, both from readers and writers. All I can give you is my opinion and rationale for what I believe--and I'm one of those writers on the "less is more" side of description.

    For example, EonMaster One's point about disliking when main characters' apperances aren't fully described? A perfectly valid opinion for him to have, of course, but I'm the complete opposite. Appearance is the last thing I care about concerning characters... and oftentimes not even something I care about at all.

    Let's not forget that the "visual" end of reading is a partnership between the writer and the reader. The writer provides details and the reader fills in what's unsaid. What the reader imagines will not be exactly what I imagine as I write, no matter how much labor I put into the description. It's all the signifyer-signified stuff. I can say "chair" but you and I will get two very different images in our heads. That's not a bad thing or something you need to fight against. It's part of what makes the reading experience so individual and a creative process for the reader as well as the writer. Instead of having one vision plastered across a screen or a canvas, many can crop up based on the details you choose to provide. The experience of being a reader is about how you fill in the gaps between the provided details. In my opinion, if a writer describes absolutely everything as though they're trying to give directions for a artist to draw it (whether it is a description of a person or a scene) that is not using the medium of printed word to its full potential.

    That's not to say a little description doesn't do a world of good--you need description. But, in my world-view, description should not exist "because description!" It needs a reason to exist. Part of that reason is easy enough to figure out... you need description, baseline, to explain what's going on. But hey, we all know that. What else should description do?

    Well, it can be a great avenue for enfusing a scene with atmosphere, or envoking an emotion without telling your reader "So-and-so was sad." It's a cliche example, but if you say someone has "ice-blue eyes," we've not only learned that the character is blue-eyed, but that the character himself might have a cold, unforgiving demeanor. The same can apply to setting--you can create a happy, sad, friendly, or scary atmosphere depending on how you describe the characters' surroundings.

    And don't think you need to go 100% pathetic fallacy on this either. Sure, you can make it rain because your character is sad, but that's a bit on the nose. The character's surroundings might not echo her emotion, but contrast it in order to heighten the emotional effect. The same goes for the atmosphere you create with a scene... like, okay, it's easy to make a haunted house spooky--no problem there. But can you make something as positive-seeming as a backyard picnic and make it spooky if you describe it with the right tone. In fact, I think working in those kind of contrasts is where the most fun in writing description is to be had.

    ...Also, your settings can be a good place to inject some SYMBOLISM!!!

    ...Sorry for that outburst. I have to cut down on the Channel Awesome.

    Anyway, a description problem I see as pretty unique to fanfiction is the "tell me something I don't know" problem. Like, it's not unusual to find something like this:

    A Pikachu jumped out of the tree. Its body was yellow and its cheeks were red.
    Okay, I'm being partially unfair here, because this description is flat in other ways. But my point is... I know what a Pikachu looks like. You might as well say to me that the ball was round. I'm not saying a writer should never describe a character the reader is already familiar with--it's important to give edges of their physicality every so often, if only to keep them embodied. But when there's plopped description of a character I already know the appearance of... it's a pretty irrelevant reason to stop the story.

    Plopping and stopping the story... that's the other thing. Description should not disrupt the flow of the story--that means, ideally, it should be slipped in with the action. If you're going to take a lot of time to linger on something because you think it's important enough to stop the story to talk about, then it still needs to have a sense of movement about it and that means dynamic verbage. That means putting the "to be" verbs on the shelf and swatting your hand away every time it reaches for one. Is? There is no is here! Was? Was there ever a was?

    ...Please don't go back and count the number of "to be" verbs I've used in this post. Being called a hypocrit makes me sad...

    Where the reader's eye is residing is another thing to look at. This is obviously most of concern in first-person stories, but still a matter to deal with in third-person. I said before that I don't really care about learning how the main character looks? Well, this is part of the reason--because I, the reader, am riding around in the main character's head. I do not wish to be ejected from that position just so I can look at him or her. It's alienating and slightly jarring. If you really need to get around this because describing your main character is a necessity to your, there are ways to get around this--but it shouldn't be random. If you're in first-person-land, obviously they can walk in front of a mirror. It's not the most creative thing in the world, but it's a little less weird than "I am moderately tall with cascading blonde hair and hazel eyes" ...which always gives me the impression I've fallen in with a rather self-obsessed main character. Which is... okay, I guess, if that's what you're going for.

    I guess what I'm saying here is that description should ideally be directed. Instead of just having an out-of-nowhere description dump about a character or a location, you can funnel this description through the action of a character looking at something--which is also a great way to get a psychological twist on the scene. A character looking at someone they don't like will have a different response to it then someone who actually likes that person... same thing with location... or just how the character's feeling at that time.

    As a side note, I sometimes feel like people give character descriptions for the reason of "I want you to know that my character is really hot. Because you might not read if you thought she was ugly." Which, to me, is not a valid reason for description all by itself. Unless the character's beauty has some relevance to her personality or the story.

    Basically, the number one thing is relevance. Description shouldn't be a free-loader in your story. It has to earn its keep by doing some sort of job within the text. The only way to get around this is if you just have something really clever or entertaining to say, and even then it shouldn't go on too long. Its existence should be justified.

    Description is grand, but it shouldn't exist for its own sake. Because, to be perfectly honest, description that is extraneous, doesn't give any new information, is bland, plopped, devoid of mood, and completely irrelevant to the plot... is the very definition of skippable. And you don't want anything in your story to be skippable.

    (Sorry this turned into a ramble. I hope I've actually said something helpful instead of just blahdy blah blah blah.)

  6. #6
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    Anyway, a description problem I see as pretty unique to fanfiction is the "tell me something I don't know" problem. Like, it's not unusual to find something like this:

    A Pikachu jumped out of the tree. Its body was yellow and its cheeks were red.
    Okay, I'm being partially unfair here, because this description is flat in other ways. But my point is... I know what a Pikachu looks like. You might as well say to me that the ball was round. I'm not saying a writer should never describe a character the reader is already familiar with--it's important to give edges of their physicality every so often, if only to keep them embodied. But when there's plopped description of a character I already know the appearance of... it's a pretty irrelevant reason to stop the story.
    I tend not to mind this kind of description (although, as you said, not quite that flat.) I'm sure maybe you know exactly what a Pikachu looks like. I know what a Pikachu looks like as well. And if I were writing exclusively for myself, I'd just name Pikachu and not really give a Rattata's purple backside about taking an extra sentence to describe what it looks like. But it's not always that easy. I see the point, but I think that the choice of Pikachu for this particular example was - forgive me - a bit of a cop-out. Pikachu's obviously a very common Pokemon that most Pokemon fans would know by appearance.

    However, now that the sheer number of Pokemon available to use is reaching a point of near-absurdity, I think this type of description is necessary even more than it was before. I've been writing Pokemon fanfiction for over 8 years now, and I don't even remember off the top of my head how many Pokemon there are, let alone what all five hundred-plus of them look like. Therefore, I wouldn't presume that my reader knows the same thing. There are few things more frustrating to a reader that just wants to get into a story, than to be required to slog through a whole bunch of background information first.

    Some descriptions are subjective. I understand that. But descriptions of canon Pokemon aren't afforded that luxury, and if a reader sees the name of a Pokemon and has to stop reading in order to find the nearest online Pokedex to see exactly what this particular Pokemon looks like, I feel like the writer has let that reader down. And I hate to use the term 'appealing to the lowest common denominator', but I don't want my readers to enjoy my story any less because they don't know as much about Pokemon as I do or as you do.

    When you tell a reader on subjective descriptions (people, places, things that don't already exist in canon) to do it themselves, you're allowing them a certain range of freedom. While I don't usually do it that way, it's valid. However, with objective descriptions, of Pokemon in particular (which have been drawn for us as a reference point) telling readers to "do it themselves" has the unfortunate side-effect of punishing them for their lack of knowledge about the subject, which I think is very unfair, if not outright cruel. Some writers may be human Pokedexes that know every little detail of Pokemon like the back of their hands. But that doesn't mean the readers do. Has it occurred to anyone else that we're so far into this Pokemon thing now that we could probably name a couple of the more obscure Gen I Pokemon and have a 13-year-old look at us like we're speaking a foreign language? Pokemon has been in the mainstream for so long that there are things in this universe that literally pre-date some of our readers. And it's like I said, there are so many Pokemon now that I feel like anyone can be forgiven for not remembering what all 649 look like. I certainly won't punish any of my readers by just name-dropping "Dunsparce" and implicitly telling them, "...and if you don't know what a Dunsparce looks like, go look it up."

    Your readers may indeed know. But since you can't look into their brains and know that they know, you can't assume. You know what they say about assuming. More importantly, assuming that everyone does know invariably leaves someone that doesn't know out in the cold. And, if you're like most writers and writing for as many people as will read, you just can't do that.
    Last edited by EonMaster One; 30th September 2012 at 7:06 AM.

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    ^ Your point is well taken. Part of the issue I have with this whole thing is probably because Pokemon is not the primary fandom I write for. The primary fandom I write for doesn't have six kajillion critters crawling all over the place, so there's significantly less excuse for reiterated description and it comes across as particularly useless.

    The other part is that, more often than not, when I see reiterated description, it's coming into contact with one of the other problems that I mentioned such as being plopped or static, which makes the whole thing doubly skippable. But it's true that I have trouble keeping track sometimes, so a reminder is not a bad thing as long as it's actually done well. It just always sticks out like a sore thumb to me when it's both not done well and when it's something I consider common enough knowledge in the fandom.

    Then again, that comment was more of a side-note than anything.

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    ^ Well, now our differences make a whole lot more sense. Pokemon isn't your primary fiction fandom, whereas it's been mine for almost ten years. (Before that, I dabbled in Digimon, which presents the exact same problem.) I feel especially compelled to do extra description in the story I'm working on right now. It involves a protagonist that grew up in a world where it was illegal for Pokemon and humans to come into contact with each other (read: Ghetsis' plan worked and Team Plasma won.) Suddenly, through a series of events, he ends up in a world full of Pokemon - not to mention a completely different location. Thus, a lot of the things and Pokemon he's seeing, he's seeing for the first time. So, when he initially meets a Pokemon or sees a new location, I try very hard through the description to get the readers to share that sense of wonder and amazement with the protagonist.

    Of course, after I first introduce the Pokemon, I don't make such a huge deal out of it - but I will throw a phrase in there every once in a while just to remind the readers of what they're supposed to be looking at. I'll mention that a Vulpix's "six tails [are whipping] back and forth in excitement, or something like that." Or have a Nidoran's ample ears drop in disapproval. Every so often just to give a reminder and break up the monotony.

    And to your point about symbolism, I feel about the same way about symbolism as you do about description. I've used it myself, but I find it irritating when it's overdone. And it's fairly easy to tell when someone's trying to make something out of nothing. Sometimes, if a protagonist sees a guy in a black hat smoking a cigar, it means the protagonist is hidden from the world and slowly feels his life ebbing from him like the slow burning of that cigar.

    Or maybe it just means that the guy he's looking at is a smoker that happens to like black hats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EonMaster One
    Your readers may indeed know. But since you can't look into their brains and know that they know, you can't assume. You know what they say about assuming. More importantly, assuming that everyone does know invariably leaves someone that doesn't know out in the cold. And, if you're like most writers and writing for as many people as will read, you just can't do that.
    I disagree. Stories are perfectly entitled to assuming the reader is familiar with things that are so familiar to the characters that they wouldn't give them a second glance - and they do, all the time. It's not just about what Pokémon look like.

    I'm from Iceland. Say I'm reading a book taking place in the United States. Should the book carefully explain every facet of US culture it brings up, no matter how inappropriate for the characters who live and breathe that culture, in case people like me read it? Not really. By picking up a book about the US, I have to expect that yes, it will be talking about the weird US school system and probably assume I know which years "junior", "sophomore", "senior" refer to (actual example of something that confounded me about every US high school movie until at some point I decided for the hell of it to look it up), and it might mention animals that are commonplace in the US but not in Iceland, and they might use localized US slang that I don't recognize or refer to stereotypes about states that I'm completely unfamiliar with. It comes with the territory, and as a reader I choose to read the book anyway and accept that I may not get certain things.

    This isn't even some fringe case; it's unrealistic to assume nobody who isn't natively from the US is going to read your English-language book. But it's not the author's responsibility to account for everything a reader might not already know when they come into the book. I came into it knowing I didn't know everything about US culture; that's a risk I take, if you want to call it a risk.

    If you walk into a Pokémon fanfic and don't know every Pokémon, you have to be prepared for the possibility that some of the Pokémon you don't know are going to be involved, just like if you were to read a Marvel universe fanfic and don't know every Marvel superhero you have to expect that it might include characters you're unfamiliar with and that you might have to look up or else pick up their relevant qualities from the story. You can't expect the author to insert extra description that's unnecessary and probably tedious for people who do know the Pokémon just so you can have everything laid out for you in a story where you should have been prepared for not knowing everything.

    I don't expect my readers to necessarily know all the Pokémon - but I do expect that if they choose to read my work even though they don't know all the Pokémon, they accept the risk of perhaps not knowing which Pokémon I'm talking about once in a while and are prepared to deal with that. And it is possible to deal with that without looking it up, mind you - the features of the Pokémon that are noteworthy or relevant to what's going on are probably going to be brought up descriptively anyway (if it says "Hydreigon smashed Absol with its tail, all three heads hissing menacingly" you know that Hydreigon has a tail and three heads), and if no physical features of the Pokémon are noteworthy or relevant to what's going on, then it's doubtful that it matters at all what you're imagining in its place.

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    ^ It seems like you've gone to talking about culture/language barriers, though. There's only so much a writer can do to help that - especially in fanfiction, where you're not officially published and your works aren't translated into multiple languages (which often results in different idiomatic expressions being used according to the language/culture)

    Of course, I accept as a reader that I'm not going to know everything going in. I argue that that's part of the fun of it. In some ways, fan fiction can inform the reader a bit about the fandom. My point is that it shouldn't happen to the degree that a reader who isn't as familiar with the fandom as perhaps another can't enjoy your story for always looking things up. I suppose it's because I adopted my writing style from an author or two that subscribed to the school of "describe the Pokemon as if your reader doesn't know what it is."

    I notice a theme that keeps coming up in this discussion is "don't bore your readers with the content." Well, I think sometimes the content itself is given a bit more weight than it truly deserves. Description doesn't have to be tedious if done well. Could one do without some of it, leaving the reader to do the research him/herself? But I ask, "why not include an extra sentence or an extra word or two here or there so the reader can just enjoy the story and not have to do homework on it?" I can tell you as a former student that I was one of those kids who used to read just about everything. Then my schools started assigning book reports with specific questions to answer. I could never read books as wellsprings of information or marvels of literature again - because I was always looking for those specific answers instead of being free to take in all I could take in. I understand the need for structure, but it's one of the grave miscalculations of the American education system, in my opinion. They try to teach preschool kids that reading is meant to be fun. Then, by third grade, they're cracking a whip behind them and sucking all the fun out of it - and they wonder why hardly anyone shows an eagerness to read to learn by high school.

    But that's another rant for another day.

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    Then a fateful encounter set him on a quest to change history.




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    But I ask, "why not include an extra sentence or an extra word or two here or there so the reader can just enjoy the story and not have to do homework on it?"
    Writing needs to be tight. One of the cardinal tenets of writing well is that you should eliminate unnecessary words. You absolutely do want to include descriptions that are going to delight your reader, or set the mood, or convey important information. I think perhaps what's going on in this debate is that we're disagreeing over what information is "important." Of course, everyone has to make this judgement call for themselves, and the right answer will vary from fic to fic. Choosing what to include and what to leave out is perhaps the hardest part of writing, and I'm sure no one here has mastered it yet. So there's a lot of subjectivity and a lot of uncertainty, but I can at least lay out why I think that, in general, you want to err on the side of less description for pokémon.

    I think my primary beef with describing pokémon is that I don't buy that not doing so you're going to confuse or exclude people who don't follow the franchise, or who aren't up on the latest games, or what have you. If you write at all well, the important features of a pokémon are going to come through anyway, as Dragonfree stated. I think anybody who reads a story heavily involving a pikachu will pretty soon pick up on the fact that it's a rodent-like creature with patches on its cheeks that shoot lightning, and probably that it's yellow and has some kind of lightning-bolt like tail. I'm assuming that your prose doesn't go, "Ash sent out his pikachu and told it to use thunderbolt. It did. Charmander fainted." Those facts are what actually matters to how pikachu functions in the story, and they're plenty enough for your brain to conjure an image of a pikachu. I'd bet it bears no more than a distant resemblance to the pikachu we're all familiar with, but does it really matter? I don't think so. And will readers be frustrated that they don't immediately get a crystal-clear image of what, exactly, a pikachu looks like? Again, I don't really think so.

    Quite often in fantasy or sci-fi novels characters will encounter some new species or concept that is an entirely new construct for that novel. But that doesn't mean that everything about them gets infodumped up front. There might be some herd animal that's kind of like an ox, but has weird horns and is called a "Bhantul" or something, and that may be all you ever learn about it. Now and again it'll be mentioned that there's something being pulled by a couple of these things, or the character is eating the meat from one, but that's it. That's because what these things really look like, and their natures, isn't important--they're there as window dressing, to remind the reader that we're not on Earth, and to give some indication of what kind of society this place has (either one that's not very technically advanced or where there are a lot of poor farmers or herdsmen). On the other hand, alien characters that the protagonist interacts with regularly will be much more fleshed-out, simply by virtue of having more opportunity to interact with the protagonists. But there may be, at no point, a concerted attempt to detail just what exactly a "Zhl'yden military officer" looks like, even if the characters run into them all the time, and that's just fine. The important bits will still come through. I think it's the same for pokémon fanfic. The only time your character even sees a murkrow may be out in the forest, up in the trees somewhere. At that point, "She heard the distant cackling of murkrow and shivered" is fine. No need to say any more--the reader gets that this is a remote place, probably a dangerous place, and there are wild monsters here; even if they don't make the connection that murkrow are crowlike things, it doesn't matter. And for pokémon that the protagonist actually catches or otherwise sees a lot, the story will naturally provide much more information, just because those species are more in the spotlight. Unless you're sure there's something that's important but the reader won't get just through osmosis, you really don't have to worry.

    Quite often, what description actually does give a reader simply gets blown through. If you think of some of your favorite characters from novels (that don't have an associated films, illustrations, or other visual media associated with them), I think you may have some trouble remembering exactly what they look like. You probably remember salient features: they're about such and such age, maybe they have such and such kind of hair or eyes if that's made a big deal of, and so on. I'm sure you could draw a picture of them, if you were so inclined. But most of the detail in that picture would be coming from what your mind had filled in for itself, not what had been explicitly stated by the author, and it could end up looking radically different from the picture drawn by anyone else who'd read the novel. Even when some aspect of a character's appearance is mentioned, unless it's hammered home again and again, people are liable to forget. In one book series I read, there's a major character who is a dog, and who I envisioned as a Golden Retriever the whole time. When rereading the books later, I was surprised to find that there was actually a passage that spelled out that he was a black and white mutt, and yet on my first reading I had completely forgotten this and easily substituted in a breed of dog whose characteristics most reminded me of the character, even though there were hints dropped later on that referenced his real coloration. Each reader brings to the story their own store of previous knowledge and uses it to interpret the words on the page; even if there are only bits and pieces of information dropped out here and there, they'll be able to weave together *something*, and even if you do give them careful instructions on how they ought to do so, they're liable to forget most of it anyway! What they end up with might end up looking like the elephant in that old story about the blind men and the elephant, but that's okay. Again, what's important is what will come through.

    As for your not being able to enjoy books anymore because of how you were forced to analyze them for class, that's too bad, but I'm not sure it's relevant to how you handle description in stories, fanfiction or otherwise. I don't really buy that understanding a fanfic is going to require "doing homework" except under the worst of circumstances. I don't go running to look up every single word I don't know out of a story, for example (maybe this makes me a terrible reader); I just try to get the meaning from context and move on. The same is true for fanfics I read for fandoms I'm not in--if I don't know who this character is, or what that weapon actually does, I trust that if it's important that it will come out eventually and try to pick it up from context. Dragonfree said above that she saw many US high school movies before she bothered to find out more about their structure. There were some parts that were confusing for her, but she was still able to enjoy (or not, considering the quality of most US high school movies) them without needing to go "do the research." I think the same is true for fanfiction and, in particular, how pokémon are described in fanfiction. The degree to which people worry about its lack being a burden on readers is, I think, disproportionate.

    (Incidentally, Dragonfree, your comment inspired me to go looking for a list of Icelandic fauna, and my god... my god. You don't have squirrels there? It's hard to imagine from where I am.)

  12. #12
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    Description can kill a story. Don't tell us every little detail just give us the general idea of what you see. Ex: (good) "The tree lined path stretched for days." Ex: (bad) "The path consisted of brown dirt and all kinds of trees and bushes lined the sides. It stretched on as far as the eye could see"

    When it comes to describing a person stick to the basics, don't give us a pimple by pimple or shirt by shirt. "Purple was a cubby cheeked kid with a skater sense of fashion."

    Don't do the readers work for them, everyone will have their own idea of what the characters and scenes look like. Your job is to tell the story.
    Last edited by Dreamy; 11th October 2012 at 2:21 PM.

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