1. TheMaster734
    Offline

    TheMaster734 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2010
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Australia

    Detail... how much is too much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TheMaster734, Feb 22, 2011.

    Hello, anyone who's listening.

    I'm in the process of writing a novel. A rather epic and complex one, with roots in sci-fi, fantasy, but with flavours of political drama, persecution, and psychological development. And I rather enjoy doing it.

    It's taken me ten years and a lot of stopping and starting, and a lot of ups and downs, but i've finally settled on a storyline I like. I've written a considerable amount, so i've started looking at some publishers who might be willing to pursue my work.

    But I seem to have a problem with my style. Everyone (i.e. family, english teachers, drama teachers, etc) have told me my actual writing style is very good. But i seem to be obsessively implementing a considerable degree of detail in my descriptions of other planets, events, social, political, and scientific backstory. So much so that I've only gotten a sixth of the way through my planned story, and i've written up to 160000 words (that was my last estimate, about three weeks ago).

    I recently spoke to a literary agent, who told me they wouldn't accept manuscripts longer than 100000 words. That makes me wonder a little how writers like Robert Jordan got published in the first place, considering how massive their works are.

    Anyway, I just though I'd put this out there in case anyone has anything to say. Feel free to condescend upon me all you like.
     
    1 person likes this.
  2. Dauracul
    Offline

    Dauracul Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2010
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    I'm in the *exact* same boat. Been working on a fantasy epic for the past 6 years, and it's become so massive that there's no chance in hell of being able to get it published as my first work. Your chances are higher once you've established yourself as an author.

    My advice? Don't change how you write. If it works for you, keep at it. It may be a tough decision, but I ended up settling on another, shorter novel to start with and "test the publishing waters". My magnum opus is still there, and still my ultimate goal, but this new work has also grown into something I love when it only started out as a means to an end.

    I've spent 6 years on my magnum opus, you've spent 10, so I can imagine us following the same route. Having spent so much time on the one story, another year or two on another work to get yourself in the door is not too much of a price to pay, I think. And I've gotten a lot of new ideas for future novels, and improved my writing a great deal as a result, making when I do polish my magnum opus that much better.

    EDIT: To tackle your actual subject, if you think excessive details are hindering you in anyway, I'd definitely take a look at it. I personally have a similar method of writing, my description tends to be at times unnecessarily poetic. Single out the things where that description is necessary, and if need be, make some cuts, you might find your story length dropping considerably.
     
  3. Ellipse
    Offline

    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2010
    Messages:
    714
    Likes Received:
    32
    If your novel is that big, you may want to consider splitting it in two. It would probably be easier than editing out 60,000+ words.

    Robert Jordan got his start writing several smaller novels (A few were about Conan the Cimmerian/Barbarian and another about Tarzan). He had to prove his work would sell before the agents accepted his monster-sized novels.
     
  4. Mystic_snowfang
    Offline

    Mystic_snowfang Member

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2011
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    0
    If you're spending more than a paragraph describing one person... and doing this repeatedly. You've blundered into purple prose (or not, but still too much detail)
     
  5. Silver_Dragon
    Offline

    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2011
    Messages:
    166
    Likes Received:
    3
    I agree with Ellipse that splitting your novel in two would be a better way to go than shortening it. I don't know how many agents you've looked into, but I think seeing if there are others who are willing to take on longer manuscripts would be a good idea too...it's not uncommon for novels in fantasy and sci-fi to exceed the 100 000-word mark.

    I don't think lots of detail about cultures and events is a bad thing when you're writing about a setting which is unfamiliar to the reader, as long as it doesn't slow down the narrative. If you find it is causing your pacing to drag, perhaps you might consider only including detail which is immediately relevant to the story in the actual narrative, and putting the other interesting material in an appendix.
     
  6. TheMaster734
    Offline

    TheMaster734 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2010
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Australia
    i was planning to make it a trilogy. And when I said it's one sixth of the way done, I meant the ENTIRE trilogy. But I see your point.

    I think the main reason it's grown so big is that i have indeed repeated parts of it. Not the descriptions of individual characters. I spend about a paragraph on that. But a lot of my descriptions devolve into essays about the setting of the scene in terms of the character's personality and those around him/her. For instance, i'll describe in great detail a historical event in one chapter, and in a later chapter allude to the same event. Mostly, I think re-describing things is my way of making sure my world is consistent, temporally and spatially.

    You might be right. I do have a few ideas for shorter novels. They're all set in the same universe as this current massive one, and rely on parts of the established backstory, but they are enclosed stories in their own right. Perhaps i could use these to introduce this massive one... hmmm.
     
  7. guamyankee
    Offline

    guamyankee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2011
    Messages:
    474
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    Might I suggest letting someone take a look at a portion of your work, perhaps a chapter or so? Don't post it on here, but you could ask someone to take a look at it via e-mail or the like. You may need to cut out some of the details, you may need to split up your novel, or you may need a combination of both. Showing someone your style could help resolve that.

    If nothing else, the way you've described your problem is clear and concise. I'd say that's a promising sign for a first-time poster.
     
  8. TheMaster734
    Offline

    TheMaster734 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2010
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Australia
    Thank you very much, guamyankee. I actually have a great deal of experience in describing problems, since i'm a researcher in engineering.

    But i'm going to take that as a complement on my style of expression, which is equally nice.

    Would you be willing to have a look at my writing? I'll only send a chapter, like you said. If you're too busy, that's fine.
     
  9. guamyankee
    Offline

    guamyankee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2011
    Messages:
    474
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    I'd be honored. I'm sending you a PM with my email.
     
  10. Manav
    Offline

    Manav Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Imphal, India
    I don't agree with this. If you split it up it is very likely that all your back-stories and descriptions will end up in the first book without much plot movement. Your chances of publishing will diminish even more. Books in a series should more or less stand alone, meaning, if I pick up book 2 in your series, I should be able to enjoy it without the need to read book 1 first. I say, edit the 60,000 words out for now, you can try something like that (may be even 200,000) when you become an established writer with a fan base. Also to note while editing, details and descriptions are not bad, but unnecessary details and descriptions are, however well written they might be.
     
  11. Dandroid
    Offline

    Dandroid Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2011
    Messages:
    199
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Canada
    I'd say just keep at it....and then write a smalller novel after....don't sacrifice the monster...just unleash it a little later....
     
  12. guamyankee
    Offline

    guamyankee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2011
    Messages:
    474
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    Review has been completed.
     
  13. zilly
    Offline

    zilly Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2009
    Messages:
    141
    Likes Received:
    3
    The only thing that matters about detail is how it is written. You can have a lot of detail and get away with it if it is organically mixed into the story. But, if you often have paragraph after paragraph of nothing but detail, most readers will get bored.

    Tolkein, for the most part, writes detail well. But, although he's famous for his detail, he also gets a lot of criticism over it.

    Tolkein's massive success is proof that you can write piles of detail and get away with it. But, you have to do it right.
     
  14. guamyankee
    Offline

    guamyankee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2011
    Messages:
    474
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    You're better off just NOT doing it. Tolkein may have been a better writer as well if he had avoided it. <guamyankee puts on flak-jacket>
     
  15. Dandroid
    Offline

    Dandroid Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2011
    Messages:
    199
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Canada
    he also wrote in an era where long ponderous description was still acceptable...particularly in fantasy
     
  16. zilly
    Offline

    zilly Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2009
    Messages:
    141
    Likes Received:
    3
    I agree. But, I think the majority of his fans love him for his detail, so it's kind of hard to say that he should have avoided it.
     
  17. guamyankee
    Offline

    guamyankee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2011
    Messages:
    474
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Tacoma, Washington
    Understood. But those same fans are not going to love me for my details. I think it is more important to stress to people that back-fill story is bad 99.9 percent of the time, rather than to focus on Tolkien's rare mastery of it.
     
  18. Dandroid
    Offline

    Dandroid Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2011
    Messages:
    199
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Canada
    pretty sure that can't be proven...lol
     
  19. Leonardo Pisano
    Offline

    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2011
    Messages:
    453
    Likes Received:
    13
    Your problem resonates. The way I decide to go forward is just writing on until I have a sort of completed work. Then the easier part, physically, is the cutting; the more difficult part, psychologically, is the cutting.

    For instance, I have an obsessive man that seeks control of the world. I describe in great detail many world events in an attempt to connect the dots. It's an overwhelming infodump (sigh). But it helps me to develop the story. In the end (I am on 30% of the work; 40K words) I am going to take out stuff by summarising, i.e., something like "John went on, and explained how the events in Asia were engineered, the assassination of Bhutto, ..." Ok, I do a lot of writing "for nothing" but the thing is it helps me to separate the sheep from the goats.

    Another good advice (imho) I received is "Leave your reader some space to imagine/visualize; to shape his/her own world." The challenge is of course which "some" is just enough.

    HTH
     
  20. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    Not many of us mortals have Tolkien's education level or his group of friends.

    I write fantasy rather than sci-fi but my advice is only give the detail your story needs. It is tempting I infodumped all over my first draft. I have rewritten the whole universe and how it works lol my world building is massive, my stories have spawned legends, language, scientific laws, new races etc However my advice is only give what your story needs to progress. I have a series of Wikki characters which are those that can provide information throughout my books - I have made them a tad verbose and eccentric so they can add a little extra detail and it fits into the story naturally (if you watch NCIS think Ducky and Abi).

    As much as I want to include everything fact is if it doesn't progress the story I don't need it in my books and take it out. I have managed to introduce a massive complicated world in under 80K words and have a plot in there :)
     
  21. VM80
    Offline

    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2010
    Messages:
    1,211
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    UK
    Unnecessary repetition can (and should) go when you edit.

    I think for the moment you should just carry on and finish a first draft, and worry about that after.
     

Share This Page