When it comes to descriptors, hardly.


Like most novelists, I am bedeviled by that age-old literary divide between dialogue and description. At least I think it’s age-old, and my bedevilment might have been caused by some fried clam strips I ate last night.

In any event, I do often reread my books and wonder if they contain enough description. I never worry about using too much dialogue. Some of my characters don’t seem to be able to shut up. It’s one reason I kill a couple of them off.

I need the peace and quiet. If I wrote a zombie thriller (which I never will unless someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse, or, in fact, any offer), my walking dead will undoubtedly intersperse their grunts with Shakespearean sonnets.

But I am not unaware that some thriller and mystery writers are a lot better than I am with setting and describing scenes. They can interestingly describe houses (outside and interiors), rooms, facial and bodily appearance (including nose hairs), animals, smells, colors, clothes, and the like.

(An aside: I’m pretty good with food and booze, to the point where I’m always hungry after penning a gastronomic scene and usually need a stiff drink. I can also hold my own with mutilations, the bloodier the better. Assuming I wasn’t on the menu, Hannibal Lecter and I would have a grand time dining together.)   

Of course, some of the descriptive writers can get carried away with their prose. They set the scenes so thoroughly and describe the surroundings in such detail that the reader often forgets, say, why the villain is even there.

Perhaps the murderer just disapproves of his victim’s taste in decor. On the other hand, some description is necessary. People can’t be slain in a vacuum, can they? Well, perhaps in a “Star Trek” movie, but let’s stay grounded.  

So, what’s a thriller writer to do?

One trick I’ve learned occurs during my penultimate round of editing. I go through my book and when I come to a scene that I sense has too much dialogue and not enough description, I throw in a sentence or two of the latter. One must be careful, however, not to overdo it. For example, if you are quoting one of Winston Churchill’s iconic speeches, leave it alone.

“We will fight on the beaches, standing in sand, which is really small bits of silicon ground down by erosion over the eons; we shall fight in the streets, which despite potholes…”

When adding description to dialogue-rich scenes, be careful not to repeat yourself later. It’s very disconcerting to a reader if you describe a room in one chapter that has green-and-shamrock-accented wallpaper, then return the next day and the same room is painted off-white.

Unless, that is, someone has covered over blood spatter. But I digress.

Finally, adding a bit of description helps with that all-important literary necessity: word count. It can be the difference between a novella and a novel. And for those of us in the e-book world, between a BookBub “Deal” acceptance or rejection.

(For the uninitiated, a BookBub “Deal” is a recommendation that could reach several million readers on BB’s email list. But it requires a novel of at least 150 pages, which comes out, roughly, to 60,000 words. Heck, what’s a few extra shamrocks?)  

Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, will soon release his 18th thriller. It contains enough corpses, but still lacks a meal or two. His e-books, some also now in print, are available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA).

Like what we do? Click here to support the nonprofit Independent!
comments powered by Disqus