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  • Writer's pictureSheri McGuinn

How Much Description



Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says "Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's." (p. 174).

It was a relief to read that, as I am generally spare in my description - giving the reader elements of the environment that are key to the story or the character's experience and leaving the rest to the reader's personal experience.


However, I recently submitted a piece to a critique group that led to my introduction to the term "White Room Syndrome" - I had jumped straight into dialogue and gave no hint of the setting for the better part of a page. I knew where the characters were; but I had neglected to tell the reader!


Now I am re-reading King's 11/22/63 and he is not the least bit spare in his description. His character travels back in time and shares his full sensory experience of the era - lots of details, since the story is about the experience of living in a different time - but not every detail. Where a writer loses me is when there are paragraphs on end that give minute detail about the setting and costuming and little or nothing about the story. As King also says in On Writing, "it's not about the setting, anyway--it's about the story, and it's always about the story." (p. 176)


Books by S McGuinn, Sheri McGuinn. Running Away, Tough Times, Peg's Story: Detours. Award-winning YA books. Books for reluctant readers. Books about resilient teens

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