1. Nightchaser
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    Nightchaser Member

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    Can you be to detailed?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Nightchaser, Jul 22, 2012.

    I write epic/erotic fantasy and everyone who has read my work says they like the level of detail I include. I'm however concerned that I might be going overboard with the level of detail I include. Is it possible to be to detailed?
     
  2. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Yes. To be brief, It not always about how much information you give, as the writer, but WHAT information you give. When you write, do so to your hearts content, but when you read it, determine what should be cut out. If you eanestly feel that everything you've said is needed, then you have another option: presentation.

    Just as important as deciding What to write, is deciding how to write it. Giant "info-dumps" in straight paragraph form is a bit dry and tasteless. 1) break up the big paragraph int smaler ones. Its ok to put things into paragraph form, but 2) include character thought, or visual obeservation or action woven into the paragraphs so the reader doesn't feel compelled to ski over a laundry list of description.

    The more detailed you can be doesn't always men the better a writer you are. But the better you can present that information the better it will be received :) That's my take. Do you have any work posted so we can see what you mean? It is hard for us to know what "too descriptive' might be without first seeing what you're talking about.
     
  3. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    What kind of description? Is it description of the sensory environment, or exposition of things your characters aren't literally experiencing (history, other lands, the way something works, etc)? Those need to be handled differently.

    Description of the physical environment, with no action, should probably never be more than one paragraph unless your characters are standing around gawking at everything. Remember that everything you mention here, if you're in 1st or 3rd person limited (3rd person omniscient can get away with more description) is something your perspective character is paying attention to. When you mention the flying buttresses, he/she is looking at them and identifying them as flying buttresses. I'd recommend when they enter a room, or otherwise first notice a scene, have them describe the general features of the scenery. After that, add tidbits of description in the action when it seems to fit (eg if they are given a goblet to drink, that's when you describe how the goblet looks).

    Exposition of things not currently being experienced by your characters can be done differently depending on whether your characters need to know the information, or just your readers (this latter situation can be because your characters already know or never find out). If it's just your readers, you could reveal the information in a separate scene, such as a prologue or intro scene - but make sure this scene is entertaining. Basically, ask yourself if that one scene would make a decent short story if it was unaccompanied by the book it serves as exposition for. If it's more brief tidbits, you could just slip it in, though again, don't use more than a paragraph or two or it'll break up the scene it's in.

    If it's something the characters need to know, there are a few options. You could just have them sit down and listen to some character exposit, but that can be boring unless it's handled very well. If it's a story rather than just information, you could have a nested narrative bit telling that story the same way you'd tell them the main narrative. If it's information, you can make it more entertaining by telling them through action in some way, for example in a martial arts story you could have sensei exposit about chi while sparring with the student (linking the exposition to the students' actions). Or even do a time-skip sort of thing and have the character who learnt the information exposit it as he or she learns it, along with his or her own opinions on it.

    In short - yes, you can have too much description/exposition. But it's more about how you present it than how much you present.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does fantasy lend itself more to a lot of detailed description? I'm not a writer of that genre, but have read a fair number and it seems as though fantasy is more 'forgiving' of details.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I write fantasy although I'm not a huge fan of detail myself. I think fantasy does lend itself to more description, simply because you must describe the setting quite skilfully and reveal certain things about the world, the people, the culture - all of which are new and things the reader have nothing to compare to. So in that sense you need more detail in order to help your reader get to know your world.

    And then fantasy writers spend a lot of energy and time coming up with their own world and this is much more work than one would think - people say fantasy are for lazy writers but actually, imagine coming up with a working structure that makes logical sense! It's very complex and taxing and so, when you finally end up with a world you're in love with, you feel like you must include every detail. I think your desire to share what you've created comes hand in hand with how much effort you've put in and for the fantasy writer, that's often a lot but the problem is, that effort is not always seen because the effort's been put into the building of the world, and the reader only sees the story. Soo, description is an easy way of bringing your world to the surface to be noticed.

    And this is why I am considering switching to soft sci-fi like Hunger Games style or urban fantasy, because I do not have the interest or energy to build my own world, but I have a fascination for the supernatural or extraordinary.

    And to the OP - you can certainly be too detailed, but at the same time, even the level of detail that you include is part of your own writing style. Look at JRR Tolkien! I cannot read LOTR because it's got too damn much detail in it but it's an English classic! Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - the first 100 pages were so boring because of all the irrelevant and unnecessary detail about every last damn thing (I'm not a fan of excessive detail - I have a hard time imagining things when too much detail's given - I prefer moody and atmospheric scenes that allow me to feel the object or scene). But again, Dragon Tattoo is famous and so many who have read it thinks it's amazing. To an extent, detail is a matter of style and personal taste. Without knowing how you've handled the details, it is hard to say whether it's simply excessive, or if it's your writing style and therefore, should be left as it is regardless of whether someone likes it. (there will always be haters after all)
     
  6. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Less is more. Too detailed descriptions may leave not enough to the reader's imagination, thus spoiling much of the fun. If, however, details are essential for your story then obviously you cannot do without. In other words, there is a fine line between too much detail and being too sparse with words. It's the author's responsibility to find the right balance....
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Of course. Too much of ANYTHING is bad.
     
  8. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Sometimes things are more fun to write than they are to read, and I think with masses of description this is often the case. If you can read your work with a critical eye, try to spot when a reader would be thinking 'get on with the story!', or try to find unbiased readers who can do that for you :)
     
  9. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    Of course you can be too detailed. Nobody will care about the quantity and orientation of cracks on a brick wall (unless it directly pertains to the story i.e. a crime investigation). I think it's best to let the reader's mind fill in the littler details.
     
  10. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    What must the reader know?
    What does the reader expect to know?
    What of the narrator's experience or knowledge would be conspicuous if missing?
    What in the scene would help set the tone if it was related to the reader?

    If the narrator walks into a room, is it necessary that you describe the door they used? No it isn't. It's only necessary if the reader needs to know something significant about the door because it will later be revealed, the reader expects a description of the door because the narrator has been relating legends for the past thirty pages that concern how interesting the door is, the door made an ominous screeching sound as it was opened and normal doors don't do that or the door represents a barrier between the sanctum the character just entered and the outside world and you want to be sure to present that imagery to the reader. In other words, make sure to describe what is necessary in order to fulfill the needs of the story, setting, plot or the reader.

    Sometimes, as has been pointed out, "Less is more." For writing, that means that the more things you describe in detail, the less that the reader will be able to imagine for themselves. Sometimes, giving the reader as much as you can could be a good thing, especially in introductions to very strange environments and settings. But, sometimes the reader can be more fulfilled by being allowed some creativity when building up their own imagery. You have to let your readers be readers at some point, otherwise you're writing a technical manual. The key is to give enough description so that the reader knows that there are elements there for their own imagination to play with. Give their brain some toys and don't require it to play in a tightly controlled sandbox all the time. A room that contains clusters of "powerful, oppressive columns" might be much better than a room with "large columns that are fifty feet in diameter are arranged in rows and spaced thirty feet apart, with a hundred feet of separation between rows. The columns are made of marble, with frequent inclusions of quartz. Each column is banded in adamantium-unobtainium, in order to augment the column's strength so that the inclusions of quartz do not present a significant failure hazard. The base of each..."
     
  11. jane elliot
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    jane elliot Member

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    I agree with everyone's opinion that descriptions should be as significant as possible. I can recall passages of Eragon (from back in the day) that are rich with detail about certain environments, but which are often quite useless and meandering. Paolini was definitely one of those writers who describes dimensions of a room or battle formation way to much. I'm not drawing a blueprint, I just want to visualize, to emote.

    But I can also think of L.M. Montgomery and the Anne of Green Gables series, in which there are dozens and dozens of descriptions of the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island. But the beauty of the island is integral to the main character's journey and to Anne's characterization in general, so those descriptions are pleasant and enlightening. At least to me.

    I kind of like to say that ambiance is better than a setting, really. Like a painting, rather than a photograph. The descriptions you write should reflect the aesthetics (emotional, physical, metaphorical, whatever) of your story.
     
  12. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Yes, you can be too detailed. But I'd say it takes a lot, because in the genre that I enjoy writing in, (Victorian Period Pieces) you HAVE to be detailed. But I suppose if you sat there and took up three pages talking about the gown one of the characters had on, it's be way too detailed.
    It's a skill, you have to be very detailed in a short time, while not making the reader feel as if you are rushing, but not skimping on the details at the same time, which, after a while, becomes second nature.
     
  13. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    As long as you don't talk about the 8th cell of the 23 cm wide tree i don't think it's a problem. Or go on about one object for 2 pages or so that's just not necessary. Basically, nothing between the lines that's infodumping. If everybody says they like your level of detail, then go with what they say because readers are a prime and a plus to your work and if i were you i wouldn't lower the amount of detail at all, the more detail the better.
     
  14. Michele
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    Michele New Member

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    I feel that in good writing every word has to earn its place in the story. If you have copious amounts of description ask yourself why? What purpose does it serve? Is it creating mood? Is it providing vital information that the reader needs to understand your world (in fantasy, worldcrafting is extremely important to getting the reader to suspend disbelief and "go there").

    Does your description provide information about the mindset of an essential character? If you answer yes to the above questions, is this description the best way to convey that information or is there a better way that does less to break up the flow of the narrative? Is your wordy description part of the style of the piece (a lush setting may lend itself to more lush descriptions than something that is stylistically more streamlined and might--although not necessarily--cry out for a more minimal approach). Many writers write original manuscripts that are cut in half when the editing gets done. I would recommend that you review your descriptions with a critical eye, and think, if I had to pay this word (phrase, paragraph) a salary, would I hire it?

    I disagree with "rules" that say description should be no more than a paragraph, or you shouldn't go on for two pages about something. I have read extremely good prose that commits both of those sins and lots of other transgressions of "rules," and those books are on the classics shelves at libraries or the Prizewinner page on the bookstore's website. (I can recall one book I read where a single sentence went on for over a page--and it was done deliberately to great effect). Just make every word earn its place.
     
  15. serowden
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    serowden Member

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    Yes. The details of your setting belong in a textbook you can publish after people are interested in your story. You can't focus on a story if you're detailing ever aspect of a world. And you can't make a fantasy story believable without detailing that setting, so be prepared to write a lot of notes that don't make it into the book.
     
  16. dudemitch
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    dudemitch New Member

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    Yes. Ever try to read Dickens? The detail and description put into it is god awful. I made it through the first few pages of Tale of Two Cities in high school English class before I decided I'd rather fail than have to read any more of that book.
     
  17. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Yes, it's possible to be too detailed.

    Serve up the details needed to advance the story, add a few in that may or may not be needed but still have use, and make sure that whatever detail you add doesn't impede the course or pace of the story.
     
  18. Michelle7
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    Michelle7 Member

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    Absolutely! I have skipped over pages of detail in a book just to get on with the story.
     

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