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.
J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.