A musing on description

Since I didn’t end up writing a review today, I thought I’d put up a little musing on description I’ve been thinking about recently. While concrete description is important, sometimes it’s also important to know which details to leave out. The classic example of this is that sometimes it’s better not to fully “flesh out” the monster in the horror story, so that readers or viewers will fill in with whatever scares them most.

The example that has most hit me of late, however, is height.

Why height? Well, I recently read a book in which the heroine was 5’8″ and the hero was 6’4″. I remember this so vividly because supposedly the heroine found the hero’s height overwhelming. I gave a most unladylike snort/laugh that, had I been drinking something at the time, would undoubtedly have ruined my keyboard. And yes, it made it harder to take the subsequent pages seriously.

You see, I’m barely over five feet tall—not even 5’1″. My husband, however, is nearly 6’4″ and broad-shouldered. I also have relatives who are over six-and-a-half feet tall. Sure, I consider them tall. And yeah, we’re a rather visually memorable couple! But I’ve never found my husband’s height to be particularly “overwhelming,” and the idea of finding him so if I were seven inches taller is absolutely ridiculous to me.

If, however, the author had simply described the hero as being tall and large enough that the heroine found his size somewhat overwhelming, I could have filled in with my own idea of what that meant—and with that tiny change, gone from absurdity to full believability.

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