Seeing the world through different eyes
When I was young, I read pretty much all the time. Most of what I read was fiction and I was a fast and careless reader. I always skipped long descriptions, especially when it was places that were being described, because I saw passages like that as tedious bits of self-indulgence on the part of the author. Why should I make an effort to visualize mere scenery? I wanted to know what was going to happen.
It took a long time to dawn on me that descriptions of place aren’t always optional extras. In good fiction, they can play a key role in our understanding of what’s going on. They are important even when they are there solely as stage directions, to help the reader picture the action precisely. But often there is much more going on. For example, the descriptive passages may be:
- setting a mood
- casually mentioning vital clues to a mystery
- introducing a key symbol
- establishing a ‘normal’ situation that is going to be catastrophically changed later in the book
- helping us to grasp the implications of a different reality in a fantasy or science fiction novel
Above all, in any narrative told from the point of view of one of the characters (whether in the first person or the third person) the descriptions help to build the reader’s understanding of that character. Different people notice different things and describe them in different ways. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes is part of the challenge of writing fiction—and part of the pleasure.Find out more
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