As a new writer to the genre, an editor recently commented "your first chapter is beginning to sound like a travelogue." I thought once I set the scene, I needed to spend some time describing the area so the reader could get a feel for it. Michael McGarrity spends a bit of time on describing Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and Sue Grafton not only describes the places she's driving by on the highway, but tells you what turnoff she takes. Is there a happy medium for this?

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It's modeled after the one in Shop Therapy in P'town. I'll send you an ARC: the hardcover comes out next week.
I agree with Jude. Whatever the scene dictates for descriptive purposes. But description creates mood. Creates tension. Good description gives the reader an inner vision of a film noir. That's when its best.
Elmore Leonard's writing tip #9: Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
But then you have the famous "shirt scene" in The Great Gatsby. Sometimes too much is just right.
The right balance is what you are comfortable with at this stage in your writing carrier. The more you write, the more right you will write. The right word, the right tone, the right pace, the right time for describing scenery, the right time to tell versus show all come with experience. Continue to read, write, review and write some more.
Not Elmore Leonard again. Please!

You learn by doing and you learn from reading.
I, too, started my first novel with travel description. I thought getting the protagonist from the 11th century capital of Japan to one of the distant provinces via the famous Tokaido highway might be informative and entertaining in itself. It took a couple of years (and some 6 or 8 rejections) for me to reorganize the beginning and introduce action and dialogue into the journey (i.e. highway men, fugitives, and a murder).
Having said that, my particular subgenre will always require some description, simply because readers don't know what the place looked like. This is less likely for the modern American landscape.
Okay, I'm on a 90 day suspension from mentioning that particular writer.
Only his RULES! :)
Thank you all so much! I gleaned something from each of your responses. So many words, so little time. I for one prefer a lot of detail when I'm reading because it allows me to "see" what the characters are up to.
My first drafts usually have little description in them. It's the next pass through where I make decisions about whether more description is needed. Sometimes I'll describe something that might not "need" it as a red herring, to get the reader think it's more important than it is, or to slip something significant under the radar until I'm ready to make something more of it.

I guess the best answer is, "it depends." On what's needed, the pace of the story, the flow of the writing (as distinct from the pace), and frankly, how well you do it. As a couple of people have said already, though, make it part of the story. Don't just describe stuff for the sake of doing it. Make things happen there, or make it seem as though the character involved thinks things could happen there.

One last thing. A friend whose opinion I respect greatly once told me you can do a lot of characterization of a fiirst-person protagonist (and probably a close third-person) by what he notices and how he describes it. stole my response...bang on.
Yes, that was the one. Rewritten twice.


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