The Scenic View.

In the wake of the start of NaNoWriMo and the beginning of jamming as many words as I possibly can out onto the paper to make my daily word count, I’ve been thinking a little bit about scene. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how to describe scenes, and, really, it’s been playing on my brain since I started the horror story and pondered if my descriptions of the houses were not only boring, but also unnecessary and confusing. I’ve been going back in padding a few chapters with some scenery descriptions, though I do feel I probably should have included some of that in the first place. So the real question that pops up in my head is wondering how much scene description is needed? How much is wanted? Is it vital to fully transporting your reader? Or should they be reserved only for when a description of the surroundings is beneficial to plot or character development?

I know scenery description tends to be a big part of the genre I typically write, which is fantasy, a carry-over from Grandfather Tolkein and part of the drive to have the reader fully immersed in a world entirely different from our own. I know I usually fail at properly describing these worlds, and, when I do, I somehow feel that it’s insufficient, hokey, or just irritating. I know my eyes can sometimes glaze over when I’m met with a huge block of text describing a place; I try not to skip around, but if I’m likely to skip something, it’s a description of a place. But sometimes they can be well-written, they can take you directly in the middle of a place you’ve never been, and that is always a special experience. So the key, I feel, is that if you’re infusing a lot of scenery into your work, it better be done well, it better be interesting, and it better serve a purpose.

Right now, it just sort of serves for word count. And maybe in editing I’ll get a chance to whittle it down to something effective. I’m all about getting everything out now and then deciding what works and what doesn’t later.

What are you thoughts on scenery? Do you tend to write a lot of scenic views and vistas, or do you tend to gloss over physical descriptions of places? Do you enjoy reading them? Do you have a favorite passage of a great scene description that people should use as inspiration on how it’s done? As always, I’m interested to hear what anyone else has to add!



  1. Describing scenery is one of those fine arts where too little deprives the work of atmosphere and authenticity, but too much bogs down the narrative. I’m with you — if I’m reading a book and there’s a huge block of descriptive text, I’ll usually skip over it. So one thing I’ve learned is that a few good details can easily replace a wall of description.

    For example:

    Mary cast a quick glance around the truck stop. The place was deserted, despite the driving rain outside.
    “You want somethin’?”
    The man’s voice brought Mary’s attention back to the display of hot food behind the glass counter in front of her. Two flies buzzed internittently, performing a slow dance back and forth across the fries as they suffered through their death throes.
    Mary suppressed a shudder and shook her head. “Just the gas.”

    Now, I just wrote that in about 2 minutes flat, so I don’t guarantee amazing quality. But let me ask you this: what would you expect the bathrooms to look like in this place? And would you eat there?

    • That’s a great example, Jo! And for only a snippet written in two minutes, it even managed to make me wonder what’s going to happen to Mary, but I think I can blame that on watching too many slasher movies lately. ; )

      Interspersing little details throughout the text is a great way to establish a feeling and a setting without boring the reader with a heavy, full-on description, and your little sample there’s a great way to show that.

      Thanks so much!

  2. Hm, this is also a tough one! I tend to be very minimalist about scene descriptions – I prefer to just give a line or two that I believe evokes an image, then to move on. BUT I’ve gotten feedback that people want more descriptive details from me, sooo….maybe not the best rule of thumb? I definitely agree with Jo’s word of thumb – it’s better to intersperse the details than to have a mammoth paragraph, although I think you can still have that mammoth paragraph if there’s something thematic happening there. (For example, a haunted house. You will definitely want a full paragraph making the house as creepy as possible.)

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