I’ll admit it – I skim a lot of descriptive passages in books. I might slow down and read a bit of it if the language is particularly “flowery” (I’ve admitted before my love of flowery writing, otherwise known as “purple prose”), but overall when reading, I just want to get back to the “meat” of the story. I want to know what the characters are saying/doing/feeling, and honestly, I don’t really care much where it’s taking place, as long as I have just a quick overview of the surroundings. The fact that the scene takes place in a kitchen or a living room (or a bedroom, of course) is really all the detail I need as a reader – I don’t particularly care what color the chairs are or if the cupboards are cherry or oak. It’s extraneous to me. My imagination fills in the details to my own satisfaction – I don’t need the writer to extrapolate unless the fact that the cupboards are oak is going to be important later in the story.
I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m not a very descriptive writer. I forget that readers don’t have my “all-encompassing view” of the situation, so I tend to include only the barest of detail to set a scene…just what the POV character might notice. Part of that is my trying to stay more in deep 3rd person POV rather than omniscient, though I do slip out occasionally. Because my characters are more often than not focused on either other characters or their own problems, they get a bit self-absorbed. I have trouble getting them to slow down and notice their surroundings, because I’m not entirely convinced they would. They normally have weightier matters to worry about.
Which begs the question – how do I get them focused on their surroundings? And just exactly how much description is enough to set the scene and get the imagination kicking in to fill out the details?
I don’t know the answer yet. I’m still working on it. As I write, I ask myself – what would the character see/smell/feel/hear/taste right now? Would they notice? Would they be too focused on the action to realize what their subconscious is taking in? If they aren’t, why not? I try to include whatever they would notice in the moment, but not so much that it sounds like a travelogue – while staying true to what I think the characters would realistically *consciously* notice.
For readers, how much description do you like when you’re reading (more or less)? Does it depend on the genre? Do you read through descriptive passages, or skim them? For writers, how do you decide how much description to add when you’re setting a scene, or when your characters are moving through different areas?