The Quality of Description Should not be Strained
The Quality of Description Should not be Strained, a Dialogue with Bill and Mike.
“Hey there buddy,” Mike said, as he came into the office, slamming the door behind him and making for the coffee maker like it was on fire and he had the only firehose on the planet. “Why so glum?”
Bill blinked from where he sat at his desk, looking across him at the red spires dotting the desert landscape outside the office window. “My writer’s group said I needed more description and sense of place,” he said. “But then when I put in description, they told me I had stopped the action and given them indigestible infodumps.”
“Ah,” Mike said. “Did you?”
“Perhaps a tadbit, but dang it all, man, how is one supposed to convey things like new technology without a ten paragraph break explaining the history and how it works?”
“It is difficult,” Mike said, as he scooped up the three precious coffee beans from Earth and shoved them in the little door atop the coffee maker, to allow the replicator to do its thing. “But do you really need the history? After all, most of the time, do you pause to think of the history of your shaver, or how Earth people used to scrape their faces with blades every morning before inventing the exfulicator ?”
“No, but… I feel like I’m just spinning bull–” He paused, as Mike, the proper weight of replicated beans having been achieved, turned on the grinder. Why the damn thing couldn’t recreate beans already ground, Bill would never know. Even when the scientists explained. “Anyway, I feel like I’m just talking mid-air if I don’t give details.”
“People don’t want details,” Mike said. “I’ve noticed that. Except very rarely, to give a sense of time and place.” He squinted out the window at the landscape. Three hundred years after terraforming, Mars was if anything redder as the oxygen rich atmosphere instantly oxidized any exposed iron. He grabbed a mug from the wall. It came from Earth and said “Visit the Sahara Ocean resort.” He had no clue what it meant, never having been on Earth, but the picture of lush green landscape and a cartoony ocean filled with fish made a contrast to the desert outside.
He wheeled closer to the window and put a digit on the glass, looking out. Mars sure had changed since terraforming. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it, yet.
“I see. But what if the description is part of the point. What if I need some kind of punchline at the end, and need to give hints along the way? Can’t I take time and do it properly in order, with history and explanations?”
“Oh, sure you can,” Mike said. “If you want to bore people blue. For now, though, I suggest you set the fiction aside and we concentrate on that report for the emperor.” He wrapped three of his green tentacles around his coffee cup and inhaled the scent of the coffee through his speaking-organ. He couldn’t actually drink it, but he loved the smell of Earth coffee.