I think as readers, we’ve all come across those passages in books where we wonder, why the heck is the writer giving us all this description? How the trees looked and what varieties they are by the leaves, enumerating the colors of the flowers a character sees and a lot of other things. (I sometimes suspect the writer is just trying to make use of what they learned from a botany class they were forced to take to fulfill their degree requirements.) But then there are the descriptions of meals, houses and people and in great detail.
So why do it? At the newspaper, this stuff would have been considered filler and your editor would be swearing under her breath at the filler littering and cluttering your copy.
As a readers, I admit I don’t always like it, but I also admit it does help pull me into the world I’m reading about and it’s something to try to remember as you’re writing. You need to get the reader into that world, even if it’s a world not too different than their own. So, yes, you do need to write more descriptions.
I’ve been reading a lot about how to do this. Some of the suggestions are pretty good. Actions and dialogue do wonders for enhancing descriptions. Adjectives that provide nuances beyond “she had deep brown eyes.” You might say, “here eyes were the color of the chocolate she so loved but was allergic to.” (That’s just an off hand example.)
There’s another important reason as a writer to put in the descriptions and that’s to more fully share the world you’re writing about.
In my stories, I know what the world is like in which my characters live. I know the color of the sky and whether it’s cloudy. I know how the sea changes color from green to a gray-blue steel as the sun sets, but only in the fall because in the summer, it’s golden. I know the flowers that bloom in the meadow my character must pass everyday to work how the white ones catch the morning light and make her pause and think about her childhood. I know what my characters look like and how they move and what they are wearing and what things smell like and feel like, including how the wind carries the mist and smells of the sea to caress the face of my character as they come home from a hard day’s night and how they only notice this sometimes, when they are seemingly most tired.
But I admit I don’t always share this with my readers for fear of boring them. I need to find a better balance in my own writing. So I say put it in and then cut it out after you read it. Oh, and I do think, while you have to be willing to kill your darlings, (which means you have to be willing to cut out characters, end them in the book or even chop beautifully written passages) sometimes, you also have to save your darlings, too.
I do struggle with these things and I am working and thinking about it all the time and one other reason I do also struggle with it is that sometimes, I want to give the reader the opportunity to imagine a person or place in their own terms and with their own details to help them be a part of the story. That’s a difficult balance but worth thinking about and striving to create. Ultimately, though, this speaks of the ultimate balance you must reach as a writer. You are telling your stories and you have to be true to them, but you also are sharing those with others and so you must make them accessible to them.
Keep writing, keep running.