1. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    Details: How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Chachi Bobinks, May 28, 2011.

    I'm struggling to find balance. When I just let it all go and write, I get way too detailed. My descriptions are long and drawn out (but detailed), my dialogue goes on for hours, and I paint a complete picture of everything that is happening and how. When I try to not be too detailed (since apparently it's too thick and overwhelming), I don't provide nearly enough.

    Do any of you have advice or helpful hints on how to find balance?
     
  2. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Whenever you type detail into the story, ask yourself if the reader needs to know or would probably be interested in what you just described.

    For example, a character looks into a random room that has no part in the plot. 1-2 sentence description at the most.

    For example, a character looks into a random room that happens to be where an elaborate fight scene will happen in the near future. Give that room a good paragraph at least.
     
  3. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    Is there faith provided by the reader that if I'm going into so much detail over it, it will be important? Or is there an amount of foreshadowing that also must be included so they won't think I'm on a tangent?
     
  4. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    You also need to ask what your character would notice in that situation. For example, is your character going to notice all the inticacies of the ornate door, or are they too busy wondering what's on the other side?
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is exactly right. I once went into amazingly intricate detail about a simple mahogany front door because my main character was a little bit ... loose with their sanity. The front door represented his shift between being sanity (outside) and insanity (inside). The tone changed dramatically between the outside, becoming cosier and more violent and intimate on the inside.

    It's things like that. What you said about "Is there faith provided by the reader that if I'm going into so much detail over it, it will be important?"
    This isn't necessarily true, but to some extent it needs to be noticed. Sometimes the most important things should be left out of description.

    My last note on this is that if your natural tone is to be verbose, write like that. When you come back in editing, remove redundancies and overly wordy sections. Some writers just are verbose, and you might be like that.
     
  6. Jonp
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    Jonp Senior Member

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    I would say go easy on the descriptions if it's something the reader can easily picture, for example say your character came across a tennis ball, you would not need to talk about the "bright yellow sphere, rubbery and light in weight, coated with a fine, soft fuzz and adorned with a single white stripe in the shape of an elongated oval running along the outside".
    Unless, perhaps, your character has not seen a tennis ball before and you want to describe how they are seeing it.
    If there's nothing special or important about the object then I would give the simplest description. If it's unique, important or a key object it requires more information. Same goes with locations. If it's a standard bedroom you could just say that, people will assume it has a wardrobe, bed, lamp and so on, then you can add descriptors if you like to imply the qualities of the room and furniture (if it's cheap, expensive, if the room is well lit, dark, maybe the type of wood the wardrobe is made of, the material of the bed frame, if it's clean, messy and so on) and if anything is more important give that more focus. "The sheets on the old wooden bed were disturbed, someone had been sleeping here recently. The alarm clock on the nightstand had been knocked over, no doubt by an early riser trying to switch it off without looking up. The two pillows were messily arranged at the top of the bed, a third had been thrown across the room in frustration. They had not slept well last night."
     
  7. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the wonderful author Anne Rice has both the best and worst examples of verbose writing. During interesting scenes, I love how she writes. You can picture everything down to how the characters move their fingers. It creates such a vivid and beautiful image in your head, and it's like watching a movie. And then you get to a slow part of the story, and she's still writing like that... I'm okay with books having some slow parts, but dragging them on like that is just pure evil.

    So my point is, there is nothing wrong with being verbose, but there are probably certain scenes that should be easy to just hurry through.
     
  8. AvihooI
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    AvihooI Member

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    Here's my theory, and I am sorry if it should sound sexist (I think it isn't):

    Girls pay much more attention to detail than guys. If you ask a guy what's the color of his underwear - he'll 99% have no idea. Or if you ask a guy to recall what a person was wearing after he closes his eyes - still, no idea.

    This contrasts girls who are a lot sharper in noticing those type of things. I am quite sure, the girls among you, know exactly what you were wearing - even the things that aren't immediately visible, such as underwear, bras, etc... (without getting into unnecessary detail :))

    Well, as for my theory. I think girls write the same manner they open their wardrobe and dress. That is, every little bit of information is important and necessary or otherwise it'd be poor style.

    I, as a guy, can definitely tell you that it's enormously difficult for me to add detail. Not because it isn't necessary. Rather because I cannot in my everyday life recall the details that surround me. If I look at, say, a room - sure, I'd remember it to be tidy, beautiful, full of books, etc... but I wouldn't pay attention to what exactly made the room tidy or beautiful.

    Of course, there are many guys who pay attention to detail and many girls who do not.

    I nonetheless, absolutely adore pieces that are written by females, because they write it in a way that I cannot for the life of me imitate.

    As for how much detail is too much, and how much is too little. I think you should detail enough so it wouldn't seem like your world is void of content or flavour.

    For instance, if you write about a girl - make sure you dress her well enough in respect to who she is - so that she wouldn't seem out of fashion. If you write about a street - make sure it respects the society that populates it (e.g. it isn't deprived of beautiful shops or residences, etc.)

    Detailing too much goes hand-in-hand with the known saying 'show, don't tell'. If your description outweighs the plot, the characters and the world on its own accord. Then certainly you should be dropping some unnecesary bits.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Not worth the effort to refute.

    And, fortunately, I don't have to because you just did.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As to the OP's question, there is no single right amount of detail. When writing, I suggest that you just go ahead and write. Don't worry about it. Some of what you are writing, you're writing more for you than the writer - they're details that you feel you need to know so that you know your characters or settings as well as you need to in order to tell your story. Once you finish, you'll go back and edit it down, and that's when you'll worry about how much the reader needs to know.
     
  11. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    Why is the detail important? What does the extensive detail provide in moving the story forward?

    The first thing you need to consider: You need to let the read fill in blanks themselves, it's a part of the joy of reading for a reader?

    Unless setting is key to the story, then don't tell it. For instance, if it's in a modern office setting, why explain it? Everyone assumes it's a cubedwellers world.

    A story in a castle? drop in details that weave within the story. Example: "Loran braced against the uneven cold stones that made the curved wall of the towers stairs He limp to his destiny waiting in the upper chamber..."

    Key is to realize that the reader likes to draw a mental picture, let them, Also realize that setting detail is only important if it has to do with the story.

    I was writing something that drew from my experiences and in the expreience I had, I remember a key recollection was that someone wore a red sweater and I had a hard time not recognizing it. However, it has nothing to do with the story I was trying to express. There was no reason to write it even though it was, in reality, a key detail for me.

    Remember that your telling a story and many details do nothing to the story. This applies to dialogue too...
     
  12. HotfireLegend
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    HotfireLegend Member

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    For detail...
    An action scene doesn't need every movement of hair across a person's head. However, for a romantic scene, description of the area around the two lovers and the lovers themselves as they fall into a deep sleep for instance may work.
    For something where someone is just walking along the road - it depends.
    A horror book may keep someone in suspense.
    A historical book may describe a lot of visual things.

    There's no specific. Too much I guess is irrelevant description?
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to write summaries that barely touch on details. A randomly scribbled example:

    My hotel room looked like a Victorian parlor - the kind with shining wooden floors, chintz-covered furniture, and the scent of fresh flowers, rather than the kind with dusty carpets, shooting trophies, and a permanent fog of pipe smoke.

    I don't know if this actually draws a picture (actually two contrasting pictures) in your head that you can then populate with your own details, but that's what it's supposed to do. When I read too much detail, I tend to skim, so I try not to write too much detail either.

    ChickenFreak
     
  14. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    You know, all of this makes sense. The areas where I'm asked to provide more details have been, for example, like when my main character is staring at a wall. I get feedback that they want to know all about that wall. However, I get overdetailed about general surroundings. These wouldn't be as important because I'm just doing staging, not describing what my MC is watching at that exact time. Am I understanding this correctly?
     
  15. Jonp
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    Jonp Senior Member

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    I'd say in general if it's not important to your character and plot it's not important to the reader.
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Getting feedback from whom? Is someone giving you impressions on your writing as you go?

    I went back and re-read your original post, and I'll add this...it is a common mistake for beginning writers to write too much diologue. That can really weigh down your story. There's no magic formula for the right balance between between diologue and narrative, but be aware of some common rookie mistakes. A lot of people try to write diologue by representing what a normal conversation would sound like. Good fictional diologue is not written that way, it's more of a condensation of conversation. Extraneous greetings and small talk should be dropped, and only the main points should be included. Repetition should be avoided. Side comments should be avoided.

    A good way to know that you've gone too heavy on the diologue is if it goes uninterrupted by narrative for more than a page or two.
     
  17. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    No, this is on short stories that I've completed. I had one that was very dialogue and background description heavy, one where I thought I had found a good balance, and then another (which was posted here) where I purposely left it as simplistic as I could. I've been trying to get a good feeling of where I am when it comes to dialogue/extraneous crap/needed descriptions.

    Well, that makes me feel better! I've figured out the dialogue bit and have moved beyond it already. That newb issue is resolved! ;) Right now I'm trying to really focus on details I provide about the person (how they look, move, act, etc), the general setting, and the motions they are going through.
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Good rule of thumb - if it doesn't move the plot forward or help the reader better understand any of the characters, leave it out.
     
  19. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I try to limit myself to the details which are significant - the ones which contribute to the plot, characterisation, the mood of the scene, and so on.

    For example, if the main character walks up to his home, how do I describe it? Well, if the reader needs to know the character is rich, I may mention the fancy stone fa├žade and well-kept rose bushes. If the reader needs to know the main character is poor, I may describe the building as run-down. If the character is about to be subjected to a crime, I may mention a broken window and gangs being visible in the neighbourhood (foreshadowing). If the character is quirky or bohemian, their house may be in an unusual colour. If the character is a neatfreak, it may be a good idea to describe how the bushes are all planted in precise rows, and mention how many stores he went to before he found the right shade of white paint.

    Even the smallest details can carry information which contributes to the bigger picture.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There is no "right" answer to this. It depends on what kind of book you are writing, and what stylistic choices you make. Looking at two of my favorite fantasy books, for example: 1) Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books are loaded with dense descriptive language. Tons of it, and not all description the reader needs for the sake of the story. It is there for the sheer art of it. Great work; and 2) Glenn Cook's The Black Company. There is description, to be sure, but it is much more spare than you'll find in many fantasy books. Fits nicely with the story he's telling.

    The answer to how much description you need comes down to your own stylistic choice as an artist and nothing more.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is only true if you're in a tight POV with respect to the character.
     
  22. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    There should be faith but often there isn't - there are a few writers I've read who use description as texture instead of plot and just describe rooms and dresses and forests and anything else the character encounters on and on and on and often to little or no end.

    The best thing to do is to be reasonably to the point to begin with - if you describe something, use it within a few paragraphs to prove there was a reason - and the reader will trust your style to know that you're only saying what needs to be said.
     
  23. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    Well then, all of this poses the next question - how do you take critique on your amount of description? I might include things because they aren't important immediately but will be in later installments of the story. Is that just a case of take it with a grain of salt and keep going?
     
  24. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    That's true. :) I prefer a close POV, personally.
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that in that case, the description needs to earn its keep now _and_ later. So you may have chosen to describe it because it's important later, but now that you've made that choice, you need to make it interesting or engaging or revealing or funny or in some other way worth reading, immediately.

    ChickenFreak
     

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