In Fear of Descriptive Words

In this thoughtful post, melanonce spoke in defense of descriptive words.  As an example of how descriptors add value, she took a sentence from The Great Gatsby and re-wrote it removing most of the descriptive words.  I liked her sentence better than the original.

She said that without the ‘fluff,’ the meaning of the sentence changed. I am sure she is correct, but I will never know. The adverbs and adjectives distract me and I can not get through them to the meaning underneath.

I love to read, and I read a lot, but I am not a good reader.

I do not enjoy excessive description in writing. I skip whole passages if nothing tangible is said or done within them. I have tried and failed a dozen times to get through Tolkien, but I just can’t deal with his descriptions of trees. I try to move past them quickly, the plethora of words that in essence mean ‘green’ or ‘bark’ or ‘leaf,’ but before I can find another word of action to cling to, my eyes glaze over and the book falls from my numb hands.

And it isn’t just the descriptive words I dislike. I like Hemingway’s short stories, but The Old Man and the Sea bored me. I only got through it because I listened to it while doing other things. I vacuumed and dusted my entire house and folded three loads of laundry in the time between the first shark attack and the last. How could exciting events become so dull? Easy: too many words. I understand that the author wanted the reader to feel, as closely as possible, what it was like to be on that boat, so far from home, enervated and lonely, having your prize taken away from you, chomp by chomp. But for a writer who was praised for the simplicity of his writing, he used hell of a lot of words to tell a simple tale.

I do not read poetry – it makes no sense to me. I can feel the beauty of the flow of the words, the sound of the rhyme, but the meaning escapes me. And sadly, so often the beauty of poetry is stripped away when the bare bones of its meaning is exposed.

I am aware that this makes me look like a barbarian. But I can not pretend to care about varying shades of green in the ocean or the forest or even in a heroine’s eyes. If this means I am shunned from certain literary circles, so be it. I’d probably just annoy you all with my inane questions. (But what does it mean? Why didn’t he just say it like that in the first place? Why is the author making me work so hard?)


4 thoughts on “In Fear of Descriptive Words

  1. I hear what you’re saying – I’ve probably cut 50 pages out of my current work because I was using up way too many words to describe setting – I was literally dragging the story down. On the other hand – always the other hand – right – there are authors I have read who’s use of description makes me want to weep – even when they do go on and on a bit. Getting that old happy medium is the challenge.


    1. Exactly – moderation in all things. ( I used six descriptive words in this post – if anyone is counting. 😉 )


  2. I thought “like minds”. Oh… but then the line about not liking poetry… hmmm… well maybe still, but I do love the “right” poetry. Maybe give haiku a shot. Maybe not. Thanks for dropping by Dancing On Frozen Ponds.



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