So, I put up a post about description not too long ago. My point: keep it on a tight leash, because too much of that stuff is boring. This is something that is generally agreed upon in the writing world.
Then I deleted the post, because I’ve found that my understanding of the term “description” was, um, iffy. Or fucked, to put it another way.
An idea has wedged itself into my head, like a well-thrown ax (or axe? this makes me angry): Everything the writer does is description, technically.
I know, I know. I’m sure all [five] of you reading this have already had this particular realization thrown at them at some point or another. We all learn at different paces (STOP JUDGING ME).
So, the words that you put on a page are all meant to describe things–whether they be emotions, ideas, actions, or shoe sizes. Everything in your story is description in that term’s simplest sense, as you are telling the reader shit. You’re describing shit, and the reader is reading that shit. Perhaps literally.
Now, in light of this, let us consider the piece of writing advice I wanted to write about earlier: Don’t get caught up in describing stuff.
Often times, authors will really go out of their way to describe something, with setting being the usual subject. For some reason, when it comes time to painting a visual picture of the protagonist’s surroundings, the urge to word-vomit overwhelms many authors. This stems, I think, from a lack of trust.
You must trust the reader! His or her imagination-engine is a mighty powerful machine, capable of generating entire worlds from almost nothing. Psychologists and neuroscientists have pretty thoroughly established that the human brain is a pattern-spotting/creating beast, for good and for bad (poorly supported generalizations, I’m looking at you!). As a writer, all you really need to do is give the imagination-engine a few pieces of information in order for your story-vehicle to get rolling and pattern-making to occur.
You must also trust yourself! Have confidence in your ability to describe shit! Don’t obsess about whether your reader will get it, or if they’ll get it right. Chances are, they probably will, because they only really need to see a few pieces of the puzzle before the whole of the thing becomes clear to their imaginations.
And don’t burden the reader with too many pieces of information–nobody wants to read shit that isn’t necessary.
tl;dr: Description can apply to anything, from thoughts to pancakes to TELEKINETICALLY CONSTRUCTED PANCAKE FORTRESSES. Authors should trust both their ability to describe said pancake monstrosities and the reader’s ability to fill in the descriptive gaps. I suppose those things are two sides of the same coin.