Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Karen opened the door of her crimson red Honda Civic GX NGV sedan and being careful not to damage her fingernails, freshly painted red with gold sparkles beneath two layers of a clear coat, she turned the key and brought the engine to life.

Okay, enough of that. When you read a book, do you ever get the idea that an author is reading the description from a spec sheet as she writes? For lack of a better term, let’s call it description overkill. It happens when an author wants too much control of the scene. The result is that the book reads more like an engineering drawing than a story.

It’s an easy mistake to make. We want the reader to see exactly the same seen as we see as we write. This is usually because what we see gives us some special feeling that we want the reader to have. But when you get down to it, it probably doesn’t matter if Karen drives a red Honda Civic or a blue Chevy Malibu. The reader isn’t going to remember, unless that detail is relevant to the story.

Let’s suppose that the kind of car she drives is actually relevant. Maybe she’s dating the son of a Chevy dealer. Until we know that she is dating the son of a Chevy dealer and her car is a matter of contention, it does no good for us to provide so much detail. We need enough information to give us a view of the world, but not so much that we have to spend time memorizing the details.