Here’s a question for you: What do you see when you read a story? Is it just the words on the page, or do you picture the setting and characters? Does a lot of description help your imagination, or do you prefer sparse description so you can fill in the blanks with your imagination?
As a reader, I’m not a big fan of too much description. I like to know the lay of the land, but with a brief summary. I don’t need to know the patterns on the furniture or the wattage of the lightbulbs in the table lamps. In a way, it seems like overcompensation by the writer.
If I had a choice, I’d prefer to read a story with little description rather than too much. I like to be an active reader, to pause as I’m reading and allow the scene, the sights and smells, to come together in my mind.
Of course, it also depends on the story. Some stories call for more description. Fantasy and science fiction, for example, deal with different worlds, creatures, magic, and alien technology. In these cases, more description can help the reader to immerse themselves into the story.
When I first started writing fiction, I thought it was important to go into as much detail as possible. I’d describe my character’s hair, eye color, height, weight, shoe size, favorite color, what they had for dinner the night before. Well, not all of that, but you get the idea. It made my stories bloated and dense.
The more I read, however, the more I learned about what I liked as a reader. In turn, I began applying these things to what I wrote. As the saying goes, write stories that you want to read. I think it would be better phrased as, write stories that you would enjoy reading.
This brings me back to visualization. When I write fiction, I do picture my characters in my mind, but I try not to convey too much of that to the page. I want my readers to picture them the way they want to. When I write about a young woman with dark hair, the reader can imagine her as being white, Black, Hispanic, or Asian. I think it allows the reader to better immerse themselves if they can see who they want to see, instead of being forced to see what’s in my head.
Do you have a preference when it comes to reading stories? Do you like to be an active reader, filling in the blanks with your imagination? Or do you like to have the writer paint the picture for you? I’m curious to know.