They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
And words, skillfully put together, paint word pictures.
Just how detailed should a writer’s word picture be?
Should settings and other descriptions be in-depth and intricate? Should they follow the example of realism, like the famous artists Jean-Francois Millet and Honore-Victorin Daumier and, thus create a word painting that “looks” real—like it would in real life?
Or should descriptions lend themselves to the more abstract, placing more of an emphasis on visual sensation, as did Picasso and Van Gogh?
My personal opinion, is that this is a matter of writing style— and as yours evolves, you will find that you prefer one over the other.
Readers, also, will have a preference as to which authors they like to read. Some love to read flowing prose that uses up word count with lots of descriptive elements. Others may prefer minimal descriptive words, freeing them to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations.
Myself? Well, I find that I prefer to write—and read—somewhere in the middle. Give me enough description so that I understand the “big picture,” but not so much detail that it slows me down. I want to focus more on the action—the story—and let my mind fill in the descriptive blanks. I’m an abstract/realist.
Some genres may use more description than others. For instance, Fantasy and Sci-fi need more detailed descriptions because the writer is creating a world totally unlike our own earth. A large part of what makes those genres so interesting IS the description of the settings and characters in those alternate worlds.
Romance novels also use a lot of description because the reader has to find the characters desirable, so they will want to keep reading to find out if the “guy gets the girl” in the end. Thus, the reader must believe they are worthy of pursuing and being pursued.
So, should you paint your picture using a thousand words? Probably not.
It is fun—also a challenge—to see how well you can describe something using a minimal amount of carefully-chosen words.
When you do this, you spark the imaginations of your readers so that they can actively participate in interpreting the word pictures you paint.