I haven’t heard much about this debate recently, but I think it is important enough to the modern writer to give it a mention anyway. As should be fairly obvious from the title of this post, the argument is about whether it is better to use detailed, flowery descriptions or restrain yourself to more minimal, concrete depictions.

For those who favor detailed descriptions, the usual arguments are for artistic license and they argue that it will help the audience picture in their minds what the writer is talking about. It helps the reader immerse fully into the created world of the author. Those who fall on the other side of the fence insist that long descriptions actually take the reader out of the story, and that the story isn’t moving forward when you pause to describe something. There is no action just exposition.

While detailed descriptions were the norm in the past, the current trend is a more minimalist style. Of course, your type of writing style will also depend on the form and genre you write in. Poetry is expected to be more flowery and abstract (although there are certainly examples to the contrary), while movie and play scripts are expected to be minimalist. If you write nonfiction, you will also probably have a minimalist style. Fantasy and sci-fi writers tend to be a mixed breed, although most historical books I have read tend to have more detailed descriptions.

What you will write, probably will resemble what you read. For writers who choose to go the traditional route of publishing, you may have editors and agents that will go over your descriptions and give you notes, but for authors who wish to self publish it is important to keep in mind the type of audience and how the descriptions affect the pacing of your story. A detailed description may be necessary to explain an esoteric concept, but I doubt anyone wants to read a three page description of a stop light. My personal approach is to write as detailed a description as I can in the first draft, and then cut out what isn’t needed in subsequent drafts. Which do you prefer and why? Leave a comment and let me know!