Laura Smith

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Action Versus Description

Posted by lsmith335 on September 9, 2012 at 12:55 AM

Action and description are competing factors in story telling. I've noticed that writers often lean towards one over another. I'm an action writer myself. My first drafts are focused on getting the actions down on paper and filling it in with description later. If I start with a description, the story usually goes nowhere. I need to build that frame first before I can fill in the meat of the story. A good story cannot neglect either in my opinion.

We are told as writers to show, not tell, and my fear of making this error causes me to stray from description. I try to tell as much in the action as possible to make sure I am showing and not telling in terms of setting, tone and characterization.

I appreciate a good description, of course. They are needed to paint a clear picture of a scene to establish characterization, tone, etc., but they can be distracting and overkill in some situations. There needs to be open spaces in a story for a reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginative interpretations and going into too much detail leaves little room for this.

I also don't like when the story goes on about a character's imperfections, bad habits or negative attitudes or emotions. While a super-cheerful character can fall flat, going on about a cranky or angry character can take me off of their side.

There is also the danger of using too much action. Too much of this, especially with the absence of dialogue, can become confusing, especially when many steps are involved. I tend to lose my place in the middle of the action and just try to use the next section of the scene or chapter to figure out what happened. This may have to do with poor reading comprehension on my part

In saying this, I could use a better understanding of when a description works as showing and not telling. I would like to hear more opinions on this so please share them in the comments section of this blog.

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