Description: If it Doesn’t Matter, Axe It!

As I mentioned in the earlier blog entry entitled, “On Writing: Editing Your Description,” description takes words, and words are writing’s most precious commodities. Spend them sparingly. But what to cut? When editing, remember the cardinal rule: Keep only the parts that matter. Ask yourself:

  • Does this matter to my story?
  • Does this matter to my characters' development?
  • Does it matter to the “mood”?

If you answer “no” to all of them, axe it! I don't care if you like it! If it doesn't matter, axe it!

I discussed in an earlier blog how I needed to eliminate some description of the United States Naval Academy in my soon-to-debut book, Out of the Shadows, book II of the Elysian Chronicles. I’ll show you how I edited the first passage to illustrate this principle:

     On the bank of the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland lay what was once the United States Army’s Fort Severn. In 1845, Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft converted the fort into the Naval School. Five years later, the United States officially dubbed the school the United States Naval Academy. Over the centuries, the Navy added a boat house, state-of-the-art laboratories, and Bancroft Hall, one of the largest dormitories in the world with more than 4.8 miles of corridors. Bancroft housed all Naval Academy midshipmen, as they called their students, since its construction, making it a permanent memorial to the Academy’s founder, now known as the United States Naval Academy. The sun rose to the Academy’s east, reflecting early morning light across Severn. The few sailboats in the water barely moved, their sails sagging in the heavy, sultry August air.

I kept the parts that matter to Out of the Shadows:

  • The location. One-third of Out of the Shadows takes place at the Naval Academy. I have to mention it.
  • The weather. It's August, hot, humid, and the reader will soon discover that Tom is sweating it out in training. I'm also about to contrast the peaceful setting with: "A lone male voice broke the silence. 'Pushups! Ready? Begin! One! Two! Three!'"

I've eliminated eighty-two words, and the reader’s emotions haven’t changed (except he or she is probably less bored).

But what if you discover that most of your description doesn’t really matter to your plot, your characters, or your reader’s mood? Or what if your description matters only to mood too often?

Check back with me tomorrow when I blog on making your description do double Duty. 🙂

Be sure to check out my new To Elysia and Back Again podcast every Tuesday! Click here for more information.

Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, which is being adapted into a graphic novel series by Wandering Sage Publications, Inc., with Weston penning the script and KISS comic book artist, Adam Black, doing the art. Weston hosts a podcast on her To Elysia and Back Again blog, which can be downloaded on itunes. Click here for a complete listing of the To Elysia and Back Againpodcast episodes. Weston is also the host of The Final Cut in Movies, an internet radio talk show about science fiction and fantasy movies on Ad Astra Radio, which can also be heard as a podcast on M. B. Weston's Podcasts site or on iTunes. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.

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About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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