Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bare Naked

Bath of Diana.

Francois Boucher (1703-1770)

Known as the "Rubens of the boudoir."

One has no difficulty finding descriptions of naked ladies and nude men in genre fiction, of beds, muscled flanks, bouncing bits and and bountiful breasts.

Other decor details - the scene, the clothing - get equal time, for the obvious reasons.

I noticed that Laurell Hamilton goes into considerable detail about what Anita Blake wears every time she has to replace her blood-stained outfits, even down to her socks and shoes. Actually found such hunks of descriptions a little clunky - until I realized that such descriptions played to the Goth portion of her fan base, where, I assume, clothing as statement is particularly important.

Which led me to contemplate prose clothes in general. Not just apparel, not just the whole nine yards of embroidered flounces, but setting, facial expressions, actions, and wondering how stripped down one's prose ought to be. At what point does it fail to assist visualization.

In the opening scene I inflicted upon you this week, you may notice I did not describe the bathroom. I did not describe the physical appearance of the dead man. When I say "he leered" I did not describe how his lips curled back to display his teeth. This information could be included later in the story. But would that be enough to back-paint/re-print the initial scene?

Of course, taking time out to orient the reader runs the risk of slowing pace and diffusing impact. On the other hand, the absence of adjacent detail may leave the reader floundering without identification and connection to the events.

Genre fiction seems to thrive on adjectives and I suspect this scene is just too bare naked to satisfy.
Always the difficulty.


writtenwyrdd said...

You have touched on a very large dilemma. It's all about our choices, isn't it? Do we strip the writing down to the minimal or layer on description?

I am actually a fan of the more tangled fiction with lots of description. One of the things I always liked about LKH was the amount of description of minutae she gives.

I'm still struggling with the love of the details. I have to cut a lot after I do a first draft.

Bernita said...

And I'm just the opposite, Written. Have to try to layer them in without interferring with the action.
And am more apt to go off on mental deviations than physical ones.
I find LKH's descriptions fairly cliche and repetitive, but her concepts and conflicts are marvellous.

Amie Stuart said... of the things i used to love about historicals (think old Bertrice Small) was that the setting and clothes were so important and so well described. Okay maybe not but let me bask in the glow of sweet memories okay? LOL
Anyway maybe it was my fascination with history in particular that made it work, I'm not sure. As a writer i tend to be sparse, because I hate getting bogged down in unnecessary detail (as a reader and a writer). But I love Raine's writing because it's the exact oposite, yet not wasteful. I think it's one of those things you walk a very fine line at--being lush yet not wasteful

writtenwyrdd said...

I think I have a new motto to render in cross stitch and place above the computer: "Be lush yet not wasteful." Thanks, Amie!

Bernita said...

Amy, when I was writing this post I was thinking about historicals and Heyer and how I enjoyed the description of the clothing and furniture.
And I agree, Raine writes lucious.
BTW, speaking of lucious, your cover arrived, I was about to e-mail you to thank you for it and the nice message.

Jaye Wells said...

Great topic. I'm reading American Psycho, by Brett Easton Ellis. His character spends a lot of time describing what everyone is wearing, comparing people's business cards and relaying his skin care regimine--in minute detail. It sounds boring, but it is an absoutely riveting book because they give us so many clues about the character and increases the tension of the story.

So a long answer to basically say this: description should enhance the tone and characterization. It soudl draw the reader into the story. Don't describe things just to show off your research or your in-depth knowledge of obscure color shades.

Bernita said...

To add to that, Jaye,in contemporary fiction, I think the reader must believe certain details have a value, a point and a relevance that will eventually be made clear.

Bernita said...

"Amie" - not "Amy".
I am so sorry. A mother glitch.

Gabriele C. said...

The point is what the writer wants to achieve with description. Draw the reader into a Fantasy world of hobbits, elves and a Dark Lord? Describe away, lol. If you want an action thriller in a modern setting, default often works fine. She's in a bathroom and she's naked = vulnerable. Of course, if it would add to her as person, you could describe the shower curtain (pink, or black with a red cube design), and it's useful to mention parts of the inventory if they play a role in the action (towel holder to the left because the bad guy will stumble over it). A minutae description of every single item in the room makes for over-description, imho.

19th century writers often had lots of description because the average reader had not as many default images as in a time where TV carves the skyline of New York into every mind. Or wrong Roman armour - I don't even try to give enough description to change the default setting, it would bog the stories down.

Atmosphere can be important. It's not important whether the trees are oaks or maples, but it's dark under them and the ground is slippery. And every noise could be a group of Germans in pursuit. Walk carefully, listen, a hand slippery with rain on your swordhilt.

Bernita said...

Yes, Gabriele, I should work in more description connected with the action.Like having the edge of the claw-footed tub bite into her leg as she presses against it too, or having the urge to hide behind a shower curtain.

a hand slippery with rain on your swordhilt.
You have an amazing talent for the sort of detail I love.

spyscribbler said...

I loved your scene and had no such thoughts. (My computer's on the fritz; commenting has been difficult, LOL.) I've always thought verbs create a better picture, anyway. A good verb like "leer" renders further description unnecessary. :-)

Sam said...

It's in the details (for me)
You can say 'He tore his shirt off'
but it might be nicer to say: 'He tore his silk shirt off.'
Then you see it better as you imagine the thin silk tearing.
Overkill would probably be 'He tore his 169 dollar Ralph Lauren button-down silk shirt off.'

Bernita said...

Thank you, Natasha.
But we have to ask ourselves if even "leered" creates enough vividness, especially in an opening.Good verbs are vital though.

Yes, that's a nice example, Sam. Thank you.

raine said...

Actually, Bernita, I did NOT notice the absence of description of the bathroom guest, lol. I was too absorbed in what was happening. That meant it worked for me, and any decor details could certainly be brought in when she has to clean up that messy salt, or with memories of her dear departed, or whenever.

Yes. It is a very fine line to walk.

And Amie Stuart does wonderful description that always land right on the mark without wasted wordage. Don't let her fool you.

Now I'm embarrassed & going away...

anna said...

Yes there must always be a balance but if I had to err I might take the risk of a bit of confusion over tediously boring details.
as always Bernita enjoyed!

Bernita said...

I'm glad it drew you in, Raine - makes me confident the basic drama is there.
Amie didn't fool me in the slightest. You both have a fine touch.

Thank you, Anna. Am trying to find that balance.

kmfrontain said...

I'm still chortling about the "killing husband second time" thing, but to get to the topic, description is one of those areas I have to force myself to add. Because I'm not very into reading it, I try to create a general feel for the scene, then rely on character interaction to pull the reader forward. After the initial descriptive bits, I look to see where I might add a sensation, here or there, to keep the visceral feel of a story, but I don't go on and on about a thing if it doesn't help. I tend to skip most scenes in fiction that go on too long about clothing detail, for example, so I make my descriptions as quick to read as possible.

Scott from Oregon said...

I am no fan of over describing a scene or of over describing the internal emotions "felt" in a scene. Both drive me nuts.

I say, drop in your descriptors as they pertain to the action..

Her thin, pale legs stepped away from the beast...

She pulled on her pink, utilitarian housecoat her husband had bought for her and left the room...

Her bright blue eyes dimmed toward the man in front of her...

December Quinn said...

I don't write a lot of description either, because I tend not to read it. And it is such a difficult, fine line to walk.

I did a whole blog post a year or so ago about how much I hate the clothes LKH's people wear. I don't mind all the description when they're dressed up, but Anita's fanny packs and matching socks and Nike swooshes bug the heck out of me.

I didn't notice the lack of decription in the previous scene either. But I saw it perfectly in my head. The bathroom was pink, with little tiles.

Bernita said...

Hee, Karen, you wicked woman!
That, I think, is the more holistic and effective approach.

Much better than blocks of it, Scott.

I notice when I re-read a book, I certainly skip the set-ups, December.
I may have missed that post or it may have gone partly over my head because I had not read her at that point.They bug me too. And I keep questioning her color combinations, thinking "loud."
How about burgandy and white with copper and blue accents in the Edwardian style?

Amie Stuart said...

Sign me up for the fritzy computer too--my USB ports have died *sigh*

Anyway Bernita no problemo on the name....It happens a lot. Blame my brother (his name is Jamie). I'm glad the cover got there! thanks for being patient with me.

Wyrdd I think we should all have one of those! I'm reading a book now and I'm 30 pages in and the descriptors are bugging the hell out of me. I feel like the author is attempting to convince me how big and wonderful and h*rney the hero is and it's NOT WORKING. There's much eye rolling going on---oooo a blog topic for monday! thanks!

Raine....shaddup you know you rock!

December Quinn said...

That sounds gorgeous, Bernita.

That old post is from Sept 2005, before I had the Blogger blog. It's here if you want to look at it.