Ten Rules in Ten Days - Rule 9: Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

There has to be description. Without description you have nothing but dialogue and stage direction. Gray figures in a gray background. But it has to be balanced. The problem is that new writers either omit it altogether, or give a big info dump, describing every thing in excruciating detail.

Description consists of sight, sound, smell, and feel. In the course of they story you need to use them all, but you don’t have to use them all every time you describe something or someplace.

Consider the second sentence of Cities of the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy.

Out in the street the rain slashed through the standing water driving the gaudy red and green colors of the neon signs to wander and seethe and rain danced on the steel tops of the cars parked along the curb. (lack of commas in the original)

Do we need anything more? I see everything I need to see to get the feel of the place.

A short way down the page:

The whores in their shabby deshabille looked up from the shabby sofas where they sat. The place was all but empty.

Need anything else? Not me.

Although I risk looking foolish compared to Cormac McCarthy, here is the beginning of chapter one of my novel A Beast in Venice:

Brigham Stone walked the ancient streets of Venice at night in search of a good martini. Streetlights glowed through the misty air, casting eerie light on the old bricks and ghostly shadows in the fog, like specters hovering above the paving stones.


I think it gets it done without inundating the reader.


Here’s another passage from A Beast in Venice. I give little descriptions of the street, the women in the bar, and the light in the bar. But I don’t overdo it, and I weave in bits at a time. I think you get idea of what it looks like. I know what it looks like, because the bar is a real place and I have it in my head, but I’m sure the reader knows a place like it.

They slid into the night through the narrow streets where lamps cast their shadows on crumbling brick and ocher plaster. They passed a young couple engaged in oral sex at the end of a street across the canal, cloaked in darkness as though invisible. Still before midnight, they went to a small bar where a single musician played lonely and sorrowful music on an electric guitar. Young women, dressed in black with silver piercings running the length of their ears, in their lips, and through their tongues, swayed quietly to the rhythm of the music and nodded with understanding. Brigham thought he had seen them at the vampire club but couldn’t be certain. Gloria ordered a white wine, he a martini. This time he would drink whatever the bartender brought. When it came, it was a perfect martini: dry, in a cold glass with good gin and a stuffed olive.

“How’s your drink?” she asked.

“Excellent. This man has been to bartender school.”

She laughed. “What did you think of the club?”

The guitarist finished a song and the girls clapped. A blue light from the bar revealed Gloria’s figure through her dress.