You can learn a lot by reading a brochure. How deep is the
Grand Canyon? How high is Mount Hood? Tourists appreciate being wowed by those facts,
don’t they? Same is true of visiting a museum and reading the plaques as you
go. 
But fiction readers not only don’t need all those facts,
they frankly don’t want to see them in their fiction.
Reader expectations
When a fiction reader picks up a book (or opens an e-book
file on their e-reader), they’re looking for a good story. Something to make
them think, laugh, or cry, something to help them escape. They’re not looking
for the minutest details on the largest snake in Eastern Texas.
Trends
Adjectives used to be the greatest part of speech writers
could use. When I was in school, we were taught to use them freely to spice up
our description. But now, the trend is to “write tight.” Writers are encouraged
to remove adjectives. To choose strong nouns and verbs to convey their story.
So, description is especially challenging to pen. Another current trend as we “write
tight” is to stick to the action and avoid lengthy descriptions. Trouble is, in order to ground readers in our storyworld, we
need some description.
Some good tips for
including description without intruding:
~ I find the most promising method of including description
is to use one or two lines that connect with readers. Something readers will
relate with and hopefully feel for themselves. So, rather than use “brochure
copy” (too many details that read like dry facts), pick out an element or two
that is relatable for readers and include those items. Mention something
universal, like how the sun hits the ancient building, or the water sparkles in
shades of periwinkle and turquoise. Take your reader there without telling them
the old cathedral was built in 1721 as the residence of some reigning monarch
whose first-born daughter wore purple on every third new moon. See the
difference?
~ Ask yourself: is this important to the story? Does it help
ground my reader? Will this fact matter later in the story? Here’s a soul-searching question: am I
including this to show how much I know about a certain topic? If so, that’s
called author intrusion and makes
for rather bland reading. Plus, I believe readers can discern the author’s ego
coming through and that can turn readers off.
~ The details you do choose to share must be details your
main character (MC) would know, if they’re presented via introspection. Otherwise,
you’re crossing into author intrusion again.
~ Use dialogue to communicate the imperative information
your MC would not know. This helps deal with info that must be included, but
sounds very fact-based (and thus dry), because somehow dialogue smoothes away the
“brochure” element. Mostly. Use this method with caution. Always ask yourself
if the information is pertinent to the story itself (see tip above).
~ Sprinkle the facts in. Don’t dump them all at once. That’s
known as an “info dump” and will
likely result in a rewrite once your critique partner or editor sees it. 

What
are some other ways you’ve included description without slipping into author
intrusion?

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