Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is possible to be too brief. While we as authors strive to avoid info dumps, telling not showing, and letting our language dive into purple prose, we also must counterbalance this with smart exposition, action-based characterization, and vivid description. As you can see, this is quite a balancing act. In the past, we’ve talked about what happens if you overdescribe, and today we’ll talk about the dangers of underdescription.
It should be self-explanatory really. If we do not create a story with enough exposition, we leave out critical world-building and characterization moments. The fictional world becomes bland, flat, and lifeless, while the characters inhabiting it become cardboard cutouts. No matter how much drama and tension you may try to create in that environment, the reader simply won’t be drawn in as they lack the critical information needed to understand the situation. Likewise, they won’t care about the characters enough to be invested for the same reasons. This is Capital A Doubleplus bad!
Similarly, bland description can cause a similar disconnect. Especially when you are trying to create a brand new, completely fictional world, you must use a certain level of description, possibly including those dreaded adverbs (OH NO!), to help your readers create the necessary mental picture. While it is fine to let your readers’ imaginations run wild, there is a need for a certain baseline canvas for them to paint on and a selection of paints for them to use. Your words create that canvas and provide that palette. A painter cannot paint without tools, after all.
So remember, as with all things, balance is critical in using description, characterization, and exposition. Too little can be as damning as too much!
As always, if you have any comments or criticisms, please let me know in the comments below! Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!