I am trying to write without description, only narrating the perceptions of my protagonist, both external (what happens) and internal (what she thinks). I want to avoid all those explanations that are obviously only added for the benefit of the reader but wouldn't be part of the protagonist's actual experience.

Sometimes I feel as if my characters and events are "floating in space"; as if they are appearing unrelated and meaningless to a reader, who has yet to read far enough to understand the underlying plot.

I am uncertain whether or not I should add in some description to connect the "free-floating" bits.

Here is an example from my own writing to illustrate what I'm talking about. The original, without description:

So how did this animal suicide thing start? Ironically, it began the night I decided to die. But why? I had good health, friends and family who cared about me, plus I'd just been admitted into university.

The only thing we know is that it's nighttime and the main character is in her apartment, searching stuff on the Internet.

I felt this was not enough to provide context and meaning for the reader, so I added some description:

So how did this animal suicide thing start? Ironically, it began the night I decided to die. That's right: I locked myself in my apartment, closed the blinds, and, veiled in the darkness, planned how to end with my life. But why? I had good health, friends and family who cared about me, plus I'd just been admitted into university.

Is doing this justifiable? Did I improve the passage with the extra description or just added unnecessary clutter?

  • I'm not particularly a fan of either, but at least the second version makes it clear the why is asking about the suicide attempt, rather than how the suicide attempt and the interest in animal suicide were related.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 8, 2015 at 16:24
  • @Dan Bron Thanks for the reply. I'm curious. Why aren't you fan of either?
    – wyc
    Aug 8, 2015 at 16:34
  • It's easier to say why one is a fan of something rather than why one isn't a fan of something, no? But if I have to try to put a finger on it: you're giving me a bunch of information I didn't ask for (in both passages). You're assuming I care, but I don't (yet). You're violating the show, don't tell advice. Both passages feel to me like that unhappy time when you're in an airplane next to a guy who's insistent o having a conversation with you, when you have no interest in talking.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 8, 2015 at 16:37
  • 1
    Hmm, maybe a more concrete way to put it: if you're going to write a story in the first person ("I walked to the store"...), then the internal dialog of the character should reflect the thoughts that character would actually have. Joe wouldn't think about his suicide and then ask himself why he did so: he already knows. He's not going to recount the story, he already knows it. Some external stimulus may cause him to recall some poignant detail, casting him back in time, but he's not going to start searching for animal suicides and then tell himself the story of his own suicide.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 8, 2015 at 16:46
  • @what Oh, sorry, I didn't notice. What can I do? Maybe just remove my example?
    – wyc
    Aug 9, 2015 at 6:18

2 Answers 2


The first thing you should ask yourself is whether or not the additional description helps to further the story. If it helps the reader get a better sense of the setting or mood of the scene, then you should consider adding it. However, if you are only adding it to increase the amount of content, then definitely don't do it.

Your second example does do a slightly better job of establishing the narrator's mood, as well as the general setting. I'm not sure I'd go with those exact words, but I think that this scene would benefit from the information. It does a better job of showing how the narrator is feeling than just telling.


It's a balance. When I read the first version, it just barely verges on being "too sensational", but it works. The second version offers an improvement of sorts, but phrases like "That's right" which acknowledge how sensational/confusingly disparate the events are, instead of just letting the reader realize that for herself, are deleterious.

I.e.: know how disparate is too disparate, and don't write anything that comments on how disparate it is. Know your reader and her limits—to give you an idea, the first version you posted seems fine—and then trust her to follow you through.

Have you seen Tarantino's movies? Resivoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are both fairly broken-up—they depend on it—but it works. Knowing that limit is probably something you get from reading your story and having others read it.

Minor editing suggestion: "plus" results in a kind of pseudo run-on. Using "and" would be better, in my opinion.

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