Previous Refine Your Prose Posts:
Refine Your Prose 4: Use the Landscape
Landscape should mean as much to a story as the characters. When used with purpose, landscape is invaluable in creating and emphasizing emotional tone. What would The Great Gatsby be without the landscape of the nouveau riche of the ‘20s, or The Grapes of Wrath without the Dust Bowl? The landscape in these works and countless others is as much a character as the protagonists.
In general, I loathe description of landscape, and over-description in general. It is a prose sinkhole. No other facet of writing gives an author more opportunity to encumber the flow of the story. But many well-known authors describe a lot. Both Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Fitzgerald go to absurd lengths to describe. But they are brilliant at it because their descriptions always matter. Everything described in their works serves the narrative and tone of the story.
Whenever you describe a country, a room or a twig on the ground, make sure it serves the narrative. Use it to establish the emotional tone of your story and reinforce it along the way. When you edit, add description that strengthens your tone, and delete description that doesn’t. Does your detailed description of the rain highlight your story’s themes? If yes, keep it up. If not, rewrite or delete it.
Good description establishes and reinforces emotional tone. It does not show the beautiful picture in your head or act as filler. And it can be deadly for the beginning of a novel. Done well, description can take your narrative further than the characters can alone, and heighten your themes beyond what your protagonists do or say.