Saturday, October 9, 2010


blog1 My 4th grade daughter is reading the Chronicles of Narnia.  She started out with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and really enjoyed it.  Then she decided to read Prince Caspian.

One night last week, I told her that her reading time was up and it was time to turn in.  “But Mama!” she said.  “I’ve only read four pages!”

Usually in that length of time she’s read at least a chapter, so I decided to take a look.  I’d forgotten that C.S. Lewis had such long descriptive passages.  And I love Lewis.

But he’d very carefully written out a description of a ridge the group was crossing and the valley beneath.  The description of the journey over the treacherous ridge took several pages of description.

My daughter doesn’t really know how to skim yet, and she’d gotten bogged down in all the details.  It wasn’t that she was savoring every word—it was that she was trying to work through the heavy imagery.

Which made me think.  Yes, if anyone could write a beautiful descriptive passage, it was C.S. Lewis.  And I know my nine year old isn’t the speediest reader in the world, but it did slow her down and trip her up…which isn’t what we want for our readers.

When it was time for her to write her synopsis of the chapter for school, she didn’t have much material to write about.  The plot hadn’t actually progressed during the description…it could be summed up with: “The group made a harrowing journey toward the enemy’s campsite.”

It made me realize how frequently I skim descriptive passages.  I think it’s a shame—but I honestly don’t have as much time as a reader anymore.

As a writer, I don’t write much description.  In fact, my editors usually ask me to put more in.  I’m more likely to try to give a picture of a character through their actions, instead.

How much is too much description?  How much is too little?  As a writer, does the amount you put in reflect how you view descriptive passages as a reader?