Exhibit A: As Joe continued on the skyship to the magical realm, he saw a dragon fly past. It was proof that this adventure was taking him far beyond his sleepy suburb.
Exhibit B: As Joe continued on the skyship to the magical realm, he saw a large beast fly past. The creature had wings that spanned dozens of feet and claws as big as steak knives. Its entire body was covered in scales and as it passed, it snorted a wisp of fire from its nostrils. It was proof that this adventure was taking Joe far beyond his sleepy suburb.
Exhibit C: As Joe continued on the skyship to the magical realm, he saw a large, breathtaking beast fly past. The creature had wings that spanned dozens of feet. They dipped up and down with the wind, shooting waves through the very air. Occasionally, the monster would let its wings billow as it glided. Its claws were as big as steak knives, and they looked to be several times as sharp. Joe noticed their serrated edges and winced at the pain they could cause. The beast’s entire body was covered in sleek, black scales. Each one glinted in the harsh sunlight, and together they pulsated with the creature’s breath. As it passed, it snorted a wisp of golden fire from its large nostrils. The beast was proof that this adventure was taking Joe far beyond his sleepy suburb.
Exhibit A told us that a dragon was there. Exhibit B showed us the details of the dragon. Exhibit C gave a more exhaustive account of the dragon’s traits.
Now, out of context, I’m sure that most people would say that B is the nicest to read. A few would be drawn to C or A, but B gives some nice details on the dragon without going overboard.
It’s in the very description of this blog that I’ll never simply say “show, don’t tell.” That’s not just because the advice is common. It’s also because the advice is often wrong. Think of A as telling, B as showing, and C as purple prose.
I took a random word from A to describe in detail in B. I could have picked fly or proof or adventure or skyship instead. I just happened to select dragon as the word I would expand upon. If I gave every word in the sentence the same attention I gave dragon in B, it would all look like C. Some people think that every detail needs to be conveyed indirectly, the way the word dragon wasn’t used in B. Those people write books that are painful to read.
The length of the skyship journey and the importance of the dragon also factor in. If we’re going to see that dragon again, a description like C might serve to better implant it in the readers’ minds. If the skyship journey is meant to take a long time, the added description can help give that feeling. If the journey is only a minute or two, A is probably best, because more words give the feeling of more time. If you need to add extra length to convey time, one way to do so is to take a word and expand on it the way I did with dragon.
Tl;dr: context is key.
The follower of the day is thejournaladventure, which is a continuous story.