Plot Derails #2: descriptive scenes

There’s nothing like suddenly becoming obsessed with the scenery to fill up pages and pages of your nano novel.

I’ve never managed to beat Daphne Du Maurier or Mervyn Peake*, but I can wax eloquent pretty dammed well about the colour of curtains, the softness of the fabric, yadda yadda yadda.


Cover of the version I own

I’ve always had a soft spot for descriptive scenes; I can’t blame this derailment on nanowrimo. I can remember reading The Horse and His Boy when I was a child, and there were several scenes with food, and I tried to imagine what the various things would taste like (including dirt, lol). A few years later, I discovered The Blue Sword, and found myself similarly enchanted by the description of orange juice, of forests with tangled roots, of burning deserts…

Good memories!


Perhaps because of these childhood/teen influences, I like to include things that make the scene feel real; is it cold, is it dark, does the POV character have sore feet? What can the characters smell, is it good or bad? Is the banister beneath her hand smooth and polished wood, warmed by the sun, or cold metal, rough with rust? I like these concrete moments, because it adds depth to the moment and increases the ability to visualize the scene.



I own this beauty too

And I do go overboard on occasion. I can get so caught up in the sensory input that I fail to actually have my characters do anything for pages. It’s a bit embarrassing.


*Both are writers famous for writing at least one, long chapter that is only descriptive.


6 thoughts on “Plot Derails #2: descriptive scenes

  1. That’s my copy of Horse & His Boy, too! My favourite Narnia book. And I just learned from a writer friend a word for settings that lack that sensory detail: White Room Syndrome. Sensory detail is good, I think. Better too much than too little. Maybe?

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  2. Whoa! I’m glad to hear you’re a Mervyn Peake fan. I hardly ever hear his name and his Gormenghast trilogy is at the top so far as I’m concerned. I agree about description. I love it for the mood that it sets. Dickens was good with that as well. His interiors, whether the poorest of the poor or the richest in the land, are amazing. And I agree with Amo, too much is far better than not enough. I finished a recent novel…gaaaa, can’t even think of the author…but it was a mystery thiller and it was absolutely devoid of description other than the cliché stuff like…”it rained all day.” It was a struggle to finish the book. So, yeah, go with description.

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  3. The Horse and His Boy is an excellent read! One of my favorites by far and definitely my favorite in the Narnia series. Thanks for the post!
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  4. I loved The Horse and His Boy too, and those two meals of Shasta’s, in Tashbaan and with the Dwarfs. They intrigued me even though I was not, and am not, particularly interested in food. Lewis was good at meals, wasn’t he – remember the Pevensies eating fish with the Beavers? I enjoy descriptive scenes like that. (It helped for me that the Narnia books had Pauline Baynes’s exquisite illustrations – I can see that lobster and white wine picture in my mind’s eye this minute.) Some authors can write long descriptive passages and they just work, some can’t, and blowed if I could say if there’s any technique or element that makes one work and another not. I know one who comes a cropper, though – Jean Auel. The amount of skipping I did through Plains of Passage! Between her laying out every last bit of research she’d done on the Palaeolithic tundra and the endless (and endlessly boring by this point) sex scenes, I probably should have had about two thirds of the price back. 😛

    Don’t know if this will link, but this is my edition. I loved Aslan as a cat.

    The Horse and his Boy

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      • I was surprised at how many covers there are when I googled it yesterday.

        I just remembered Aslan’s one correct piece of reparation: at the Tombs, Shasta admits he threw stones at a stray cat, and Aslan-the-cat scratches him.

        I liked the description of the Tombs, too. Nothing actually happens but they’re damn scary.

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