Writing is an art. Our words are our tools in our chosen medium, and we slave over picking the perfect combination to convey what's been bouncing around inside our heads. Sometimes we strive to find the appropriate prose to describe our humanity, the heart-rending emotions that either make us grateful to get out of bed every morning or chip away at us until we want to slit our wrists. Other times, we just want to find another descriptor for "cock" in an alien threesome scene. There's lots of middle ground, of course.
In the never-ending quest to clean up my writing and embrace the philosophy of "less is more", I've started wondering - can there be too much description? We want to paint a vivid, accurate picture of what's happening in our stories. We want the readers to see what we see when we close our eyes. We want to breathe life into our characters using only letters on a page.
On the flip side, we also don't want to treat our readers like idiots. If we leave a little wiggle room in our descriptions, it's possible that the reader is able to imprint his/her own ideas, and become more immersed in the plot and invested in the characters. Perhaps they even want to become our heroes and live vicariously through our tales of triumph.
To repeat my previous statement: there's lots of middle ground. We all fear the dreaded purple prose. We don't want our points to get bogged down in a lot of frills. There's probably a cake/icing analogy in here somewhere, but I'm the person who will scrape off the icing with my finger to eat it and leave the cake behind, so I'd better not go there. At the same time, we don't want our prose to be dry and boring (much like cake!). There has to be something in there that grabs the readers and draws them in to our fictional worlds.
So far, I've been trying to keep a few "rules" in mind. Don't ask me who wrote these rules, these are just some suggested guidelines I've picked up here and there along the way. I used to have an untamed love for adverbs, but I'm finally realizing how useless most of them are. Snip! Only when a verb actually needs to be emphasized, or if the adverb changes the likely interpretation of the verb, do I dare to throw in one of my beloved -ly words.
I've been trying to cut down on a lot of adjectives, too. Very rarely does a noun need a whole slew of descriptors. I'm trying to limit myself to one or two per sentence (if that), and I think it really does help the rhythm of my writing.
Dialogue tags have been covered by a lot of other people in a lot of different places. I won't try to re-invent the wheel. But yeah, I try to use "screamed", "whispered", "said adverbly", etc. in moderation now. The more you use something, the less effective it becomes, so I figure if someone only whispers something once in two chapters, that's got to be a big deal, right? (Maybe.)
This is just the dangerously pointy tip of the cold, jagged, unforgiving iceberg. (Gotcha!) There's no "right" way of doing things, nor is there some magical formula that will give us the perfect level of description. And as always, this is completely, totally, 100% subjective. One man's trash is another man's brilliantly sparkling treasure.