I’ve been writing books for a long time, and you’d think I’d have it down pat by now. Ha! There are some things I still stubbornly resist even though I should know better. Like writing description. For me it’s like having someone tell you to eat your peas (even though, for the record, I like peas). I just don’t like doing it. I get so involved with unspooling the plot, I don’t want to stop and smell the roses. I’m more interested in what my characters are doing than what they’re wearing, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. I have to force myself to write that stuff because those paragraphs feel like road blocks, downed trees and live wires. On first reading they seem clunky and obvious. I want to be on the motorcycle riding it, not telling you what color it is, how big the engine is, how it sounds, and what the exhaust smells like.
Funny thing is, I don’t feel that way when I’m reading someone else’s work. I enjoy well-written descriptions that let me experience what the characters are experiencing. But when I write that stuff, it doesn’t feel right. It feels awkward and, in a way, too easy.
But that’s the odd thing about creative endeavors. Very often the easiest things get the best audience response. Think of a guitar god who wails away at top volume and gets wild cheers when all he’s playing is the same note over and over. Sometimes craft gets in the way. Most audiences tend to like it simple, raw, and from the gut: three chords and a driving beat. Sometimes the more intricate the song, the fewer fans. If people really wanted a steady diet of complex, challenging, and experimental music, we’d have dozens of top 40 jazz and classical radio stations on the dial.
Writers who labor over clever phrasing, precious word choice, and nuanced construction might get high praise from the critics but snores from readers. A minimalist writer will forgo descriptions, judging them conventional and passé. But if that’s what readers want, why should the writer deny them? (Unless, of course, you believe that reading a novel shouldn’t be entertainment first and foremost. But that’s another kettle of fish we won’t get into here.)
The way I see it, just because I don’t like writing descriptions, I shouldn’t shortchange my readers. Look, if Eric Clapton can hang on a single note and repeat it until it cries and his fans roar, and then do it again night after night, I can certainly describe clothes and rooms and meals and landscapes and facial expressions even though it feels like I’ve done it a hundred times before. After all, if you want to keep working, you have to please the fans. Right?