How Much Description Is Too Much?

How Much Description Is Too Much?

This is a guest post from Sydney over at Sydney The Writer! I love this post, and I hope you guys do too.

I love description, particularly writing it. There is something incredibly satisfying about perfectly capturing a place, a person or emotion. I find myself reading those perfect paragraphs over and over again, a smile on my face. Because of this, however, it’s easy to get carried away. I have to remind myself that while I love writing lots of description, not everyone will enjoy reading lots of it. There is a fine line between too much description, and just the right amount.

Description is vital to any book. Without it, the story would fall apart. It is an author’s responsibility to paint a picture for the readers. It doesn’t just help us see the story in our heads – it helps us understand the story, as well as the characters! If a character who never smiles has laugh lines around her eyes, we know that she wasn’t always this way. Something has happened in her past that has changed her. The author didn’t have to spell that out for us! She only has to describe the laugh lines, and we get it.

Description reveals to us how both the author and the main character see the world. A writer builds description in their novel based on what they have seen in their own life without even realizing it. It’s fascinating, because different authors will pick up different details or make different observations about the same sunrise, or the same old man sitting on the subway. By reading their novel, you get a peek inside their heads – which sounds totally creepy, but is actually totally amazing.

If a novel is written well, it can also help you understand the main character. A child will see things from a different POV than someone who is eighty and has fought in a war.

And then there is symbolism. SO MUCH symbolism can be found in description, and I absolutely love when I discover a new layer to the story or get a hint of what is to come.

But like everything, I believe there is such a thing as too much. Things can be taken way too far. Here are several things that happen when a novel’s pages are filled with nothing but description.

1. Readers lose interest.

*Scans page and sees nothing but more talk of the wrinkles on Elizabeth’s forehead* No thanks. I’ll pass.

2. We lose the important points amongst the other not-so-important points.

I think that when writing description, a writer should know what they mean to highlight and not stray too far away from that, or we’ll lose it completely.

3. Things get too technical and less emotional.

Emotion should be chosen over technicality. Always. A few powerful sentences reach a reader’s heart so much better than an entire paragraph of strained description.

4. The storyline stops moving forward.

Everything an author writes should propel the story forward, or give us a better insight into a character, relationship, or setting. It all needs a purpose, even description. When there is too much of it, it loses that purpose.

So what do you think? When does description become too much? When do you lose interest? Has there ever been a book you’ve put down unfinished because of over-description? If you write, do you enjoy writing description? I’d love to hear from you!

Hi! I’m Sydney. I am a teen writer, reviewer, and blogger, and I blog over at Sydney The Writer. I love cities, and I will ALWAYS choose a city over an island or beach as a vacation spot! I also love bath bombs, and I have a – sometimes unhealthy – obsession with Lush. I have an extensive amount of stationary, and yet I always want more notebooks. I am an actor, and I’m happiest when I’m in front of the camera! I also write, both short stories and novels. I believe that everyone has a story, and more than anything, I want to tell those stories.

Sydney’s Links!

I hope you liked this post, and if you did, be sure to leave a comment here answering Sydney’s questions and check out her own blog!
Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “How Much Description Is Too Much?

  1. Yes I have put down quite a few books because of too much detail. I have also skimmed through pages of novels that I actually liked to get to the action. I want enough to picture an item or location in my mind but leave me some room for imagination. Your reader will follow along and create there on image using the hints that you have dropped. I don’t need every detail about the dress a dutchess is wearing to the grand ball unless it plays a significant role in the story (an unidentified lady is found face down in the garden wearing that dress) A little morbid of an example but I think you get the idea.

    I’m a minimalist. Sometimes too much so. That’s why I’m reading articles on description. I’ve just finished my first draft and need to go in and beef it up.


  2. I don’t mind wordy descriptions. I read many literary fictions and man! They’re wordy and meaty. But I agree with you I dislike it if interferes with the plot making it too slow as if nothing is going on. What I hate the most is the description that is written for no one, something that is confusing, has no point and difficult to understand. I found description of this kind once, in a children’s book and it made me really mad!. I mean, how could the author serve that nonsense to those lovely little readers?

    Great post, Sydney!


  3. I guess description can get too much but I love when it’s done well. When the description is so in depth, that what’s being described almost has this magical glow inside your head as you read through the passages! But, pages and pages is not good. some authors do this and i end up skipping half f the book! This is a great topic to talk about and will definitely check out your (Sydney’s) blog!


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