One of the things I’m dealing with in my current editing run of my novel is descriptions. When it comes to descriptions, I tend to err on the conservative side – at least as far as my current POV character is concerned. One thing I tend to forget, though, is that just because I can picture it all in my mind’s eye doesn’t mean the reader will. My narrator rarely describes anything in long-winded terms unless he’s making a specific point, and if I don’t keep him in check, he’ll give me pages of dialogue interspersed with beats of smiles, gestures, cigarettes and coffee mugs – while conveniently forgetting to mention what the person he’s talking to looks like (even if it’s their first time on the page).
My current technique for handling this without overloading the narrative is the trick of relevant details. In the paraphrased words of Chuck Wendig, whose writing advice chimes with me very frequently, if one of the chairs in the room is broken, that’s the one I want to hear about, I don’t care about the rest of the chairs.
Here are some examples of descriptions that I sprinkled into the story during my yesterday’s edits.
The machine coughs two pre-war dollars’ worth of coffee into a paper cup. It tastes like it’s overpriced, but gets palatable after three sugars.
The garage work floor is a familiar symphony of smells, concentrated after being locked inside for the night: grease, solvent, new tires, and, without fail, the shockingly chemical banana air freshener over the break room door. Inside the break room, the coffee is still kept in the bottom cupboard, and coffee filters, in the top.
I spend most of the hour dragging various junk out of my bedroom, aka the closet under the roof. Gary leaves his office to observe the pile growing on the work floor: a couple wooden pallets, an empty toolbox, some cracked jerry cans, a bright blue air wavy dude missing an arm…
P.S. Fun fact: the official names for the air wavy dudes include “air dancers,” “skydancers,” and “tube men.” Google’s suggestion guessed what I was looking for as soon as I typed in “air wavy.”