Ensure descriptive details aren’t just chrome

Descriptive scenes of places, characters or the time period in stories ought to be relevant to the plot. Such scenes should provide details that molds the reader’s understanding of the character and of the setting.

Consider the following paragraph:

Peter rolled his eyes but began his descent. Upon reaching the ground, his father handed him a handkerchief. It did little good. Red granules of prairie loam whirled upon the wind like thick swarms of gnats. As the old man blinked slowly, Peter searched for a hint of anticipation in that vacant face, saw only a thick line drooping beneath zombie eyes and skin damp from the swelter.

The details in this paragraph help establish the hot, dirty environment the characters are in and the fatigue of Peter’s father. The heat presumably led to this tiredness. During the scenes ahead, the fatigue should play some role in the plot – perhaps the father makes an error resulting from his tiredness that is a major plot point. So also should the gritty environment; perhaps Peter later is embarrassed when he meets an attractive woman because he is dirty.

If the fatigue, heat and dirtiness of the scene are irrelevant to the plot, then those details can be considered chrome, a term coined by Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop’s David Alexander Smith. Chrome ought to be deleted from the story.

A related term to describe interesting but irrelevant descriptive details is “more ink around the dogs,” an expression from CSFW’s Sari Bowen in reference to a poorly written story in which the only interesting part of the tale was the description of the dogs.