I’m curious how widespread this habit is. When I’m reading a work of fiction, if the first sentence of a paragraph signals to me that the main focus of the paragraph is the physical description of something–landscape, layout of a room, a person’s physical appearance, whatever–I skip the paragraph.*
This is what I’ve done ever since I can remember, and it’s such an ingrained habit it takes next to no mental effort on my part. Skipping these paragraphs is just a natural part of the reading process for me.
Is this common?
Are some of you cringing upon discovering anyone in the world would commit this abomination?
Anyone thinking “Hey, I need to start doing that!”
*A very few times, I have had to go back over the passage later on because I missed some detail important to the plot. (I can’t recall specific instances, but I know it happened a few times with the LOTR trilogy. It was while reading that trilogy that I became consciously aware of what I had been doing all my life–skipping descriptive passages.) But very usually, no such important details are present, or if they are, they are easy enough to figure out after the fact without having to go back and reread things.
I did constantly while reading Robert Jordan, it made the books incredibly short.
It depends on the writer.
Like DigitalC, I definitely did it a few times with Robert Jordan’s later entries in The Wheel of Time series, and for a few “hellrides” in Roger Zelazny’s Amber books (which nevertheless remain some of my all-time favorite re-reads).
On the other hand, I never did it with anything in the LotR or the Silmarillion. The descriptions themselves were just too poetical. (Though I do usually skim the Quenya Elvish stuff Galadriel sings as the Fellowship leaves Lorien.)
And I also never do it for any book where there’s a “mystery” element going on. Extensive playing of Infocom games in my formative years have trained me to scan every detail of a description for clues to a puzzle.
As a writer, yes. Stop doing that. That boring stuff is hard work, and it’s in there for a reason (although the reason may not be apparent).
I got through The Scarlet Letter in about a half hour using that method.
I try to slog through stuff like that, but in some books it just breaks me.
LotR is the obvious example here. I’d actually love it if they’d publish editions of the books minus the endless description of the terrain, since I skip over all that stuff anyway.
But in general, yeah, I tend to gloss over descriptions of things since I usually just wind up making some image up in my mind anyway.
Do it all the time! (not so much miss an entire passage out, as speed read it, unless it grabs me with the first sentence)
- And I’m a writer, sort of.
Totally depends on the writer. Some suck at it, and others are masters. Philip Roth described the process of making gloves in American Pastoral, and it was fucking beautiful. Go figure.
I do that too. I read a story to find out what happens. A paragraph or two spent setting the scene for something takes me out of the story since I’m thinking, “okay, okay, let’s get on with the story”. My one exception is Stephen King. I like the way he can describe even the most mundane details.
I do with most writers, I think. I don’t skip paragraphs so much as skim until I find something more plot-related. Occasionally I miss something important, but I haven’t yet broken this habit.
I’m a writer too, though not professionally. I skip descriptions (for the most part) when writing as well.*
What is the reason for descriptive passages? I mean, I guess it depends on the passage. But still, can you say anything about it?
*Anybody can say “I’m a writer” and that doesn’t mean that anyone should care what they say about writing. So just for the record I’ll say I consider myself to have been a bona fide though nonprofessional and unpublished writer based on the comments of professional writers (of fiction and poetry) who have read my fiction and poetry in a critical (academic) setting and have praised it by and large.
I generally loathe description too. I don’t care about the flowers on the hillside. I don’t care about what color the dress is. I want story. Spare the me the tedious descriptions and stab somebody already.
I wish I could bring myself to do this. I’m a pretty slow reader, but I just can’t bring myself to skip text out of worry that I’ll miss out on some important detail and end up lost and confused down the road.
I skip songs. There’s pretty much no way I can ever guess at what the song should sound like to the characters, and it irritates me and calls to mind how awkward a lot of lyrics look sitting on a page with no melody.
I hate gratuitous singing.
I have always tended to skip or skim descriptive passages as well, particularly when I was younger. I was just so eager to find out what happens next. In general, I try to read descriptive passages now that I am older, especially when re-reading an old favorite. They actually add a lot to the story.
That’s funny; I always found myself doing the same thing for Zelazny’s hellride descriptions. Upon re-reading the books, it was an effort to force myself to read them.
No, but if the passage is a physical description of a character it doesn’t matter what it says because the character always looks like me. They are always short, fair skinned women with long flowy red hair, freckles and gigantic breasts (unless they are male, then they tend to be tall with short red hair and freckles.) I was not a fan of the book Blindness because it didn’t name any of the characters, instead it just gave physical descriptions of the characters which didn’t help me at all.
Am I the only person who does this? Anyone?
Most often I think it’s about the experience. I try to reserve those kinds of passages for where it’s really important, but I sometimes find myself wondering if the reader will feel connected to the subject if they can’t “see” what’s going on. On the flipside, if they skipped descriptive passages I would wonder if they understand why any of the events are important. Descriptions can also create moods, themes, character, foreshadowing and those kinds of things that make a book what it is. Descriptions don’t necessarily advance the plot, and yes, some writers don’t keep it relevant at all, but if all you want is the plot, you can just read the book jacket or Sparknotes and save even more time.
As a reader, I tend to skim over long descriptive passages. My eye naturally goes to dialog.
As a writer, I try to avoid them. I strongly prefer short paragraphs to begin with; the description gets mixed in or sometimes even forgotten – when my novel sold, the first time I had to describe the main character was when they asked me for a description for the artist (who pretty much ignored it).