Aim for accuracy, or invoke a feeling?

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I did an exercise recently in a local writing group where we all selected an object and then described it. It was interesting to see how everyone approached the exercise differently, although broadly people fell into two groups; those that opted for literal, detailed description and those that had a more emotive, metaphorical approach.

My description of an old telephone, leaned on the emotive side. Here it is below;

‘Listen before calling’, advises the faded yellow disk on the vintage telephone. The disk at the base is surrounded by the ten scratched black symbols of the number gate. Any rotation of ten digits will unlock a far off voice, but only the true combination will reward the yearning call of a distant lover, or the offer of a sharing of sorrows.

The bronze stem of the mouthpiece, towers above the number gate. The plastic black bill at the summit, gazes out like alien cyclops, searching for a speaker to breathe life into its cold pathways. The oddly shaped holes in the centre, are walled off to absorb the sound dearest to the eager listener far away. A shining receiver hangs by, awaiting use again someday. The two pieces are joined by a frayed lifeline, soon to be untethered by time.

Forgotten are the voices that called this way. Unearthed from history, this device is now all that remains of those hopeful conversations. Yet, if you listen close, you can hear the whisper of old tales and hopes reverberating through its hollow hallways. A totem of an age gone by, when a few spare words were precious, made in England, not China.

I prefer this approach as I find literal descriptions a bit dull. I read Neuromancer recently and whilst I really enjoyed it, I was irritated by Gibson's repeated detailed descriptions of irrelevant objects. There was one point where he described a wardrobe in detail and it felt like it didn't serve any purpose.

If the object doesn't have any meaning behind it, relevance to the story or aesthetic value to the setting, I'd rather give it a simple description. If I didn't feel as though the above telephone was relevant to my story, I'd just mention that there was a 'vintage telephone' and that would be it.

Granted, some readers must prefer more literal descriptions but I just don't like to have my imagination put in a prescriptive box, give me how something feels and I'll paint the rest.

What do you think? Do you go for detail or emotional context in your descriptions, or something else?
 
For me, pretty much the same thinking as yourself. If it didn't serve an honest function, then I would keep the description as simple as possible. Just my unpublished opinion, however, this reminds me of the author, Thomas Hardy, where he gives almost everything in his world an unyielding motivation. It slows the reading down, but it does give a voiced and enhanced omnipotence to the world he creates.

I am actually surprised that nobody put down, "The telephone was old, quite old."

I'm even more convinced it was a trick question...
 
@Robert M Derry , what a beautifully descriptive piece you wrote!

I feel the same as you: I just don't like to have my imagination put in a prescriptive box, give me how something feels and I'll paint the rest.

I also dislike excessive descriptions of what characters in a novel look like. Enough to describe what lovely eyes they had, or mention in passing the wispy hair or something, but when I have to read two paragraphs about their physical makeup, I tune out. Ditto for descriptions of clothes and bags: she wore a Chanel jacket over her blah-blah blouse topped with a Hermes scarf. Or some such rubbish.
 
Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.


....a time and place for emotion, and a time and place for accuracy.

:)
 
@Robert M Derry , what a beautifully descriptive piece you wrote!

I feel the same as you: I just don't like to have my imagination put in a prescriptive box, give me how something feels and I'll paint the rest.

I also dislike excessive descriptions of what characters in a novel look like. Enough to describe what lovely eyes they had, or mention in passing the wispy hair or something, but when I have to read two paragraphs about their physical makeup, I tune out. Ditto for descriptions of clothes and bags: she wore a Chanel jacket over her blah-blah blouse topped with a Hermes scarf. Or some such rubbish.

Thank you @Rainbird! I agree on the detailed clothing descriptions of characters. When I'm reading, the characters never appear in my imagination as they do on the page.
 
@Robert M Derry - love the prose, an interesting exercise, I'd love to have seen the different responses, I'm sure each would reflect the personality of the writer. I'd love to be able to write like that, I'm far too literal
I'd guess it all boils down to context and pacing - if the story/scene needs more emotive description then it's up to the writer to do it justice.
 
When someone looks at an impressionist painting for the first time, they probably think the artist is short-sighted because everything seems blurred. But as you stand back, the painting becomes more and more into focus to take on a realistic appearance.

I think this happens in writing too. As you present your object/person with a few brush strokes and wrap the story around it as you go along, you also give the reader the opportunity to put the object/person into focus themselves and create their very own impression or image, which may even vary from yours. @Robert M Derry
 
I ask myself often if the character I'm writing with would notice a specific detail. How would they process the experience? IMO, the details we notice, or fail to notice, often tell a lot about who we are and what's important to us.
 
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