Why earlier writers included more description
When Dickens wrote his works he had to include far more description than we would normally expect today. His readers were less widely travelled than we are and had less access to visual information. Even the rest of Europe was exotic. The town was different from the country-side. London was different from Manchester. Indeed, Bolton was different from Manchester and even different from Bury.
The modern reader
These days we can take short cuts. Even people who have never been to New York will get an image when you just use the name. One detail about a row of terraced houses may be enough to give us the whole picture. The mention of dark lino on the floor of the pub indicates almost at once a certain type of establishment whereas chintzy curtains indicate another.
Writing with the sense
When we write with the senses we always write well. When creating a scene we might refer to what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel. This allows reader to experience good writing but when we’re writing a story – flash, short or a full length novel – we need to be sure that we don’t indulge too much in exquisite prose. It may become too rich if it is sustained for too long.
One sense will often carry another. If we hear the bacon sizzling in the pan we can probably smell it. If we can see the trees blowing in the wind we can hear it howling around the building and we can feel its cold chill on our cheeks. If we can see the waves on the ocean we can taste the salt in the air. We tend to use the visual. Check that you have a balance of the senses with which you create your description.
Your overall narrative should in any case be balanced: there should be a mixture of action, dialogue, description, inner monologue, and exposition. The latter may even be avoided and should only take up a small part of the text at best. Dialogue may be more dominant in popular fiction. Look for the narrative balance in works you expect to be comparable to what you are producing. Do they have a similar balance to your own text?
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