1. Lorravan
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    Lorravan Member

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    How much detail is TOO much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lorravan, Apr 9, 2013.

    Hey guys, quick question:
    When it comes to describing a scene, how much detail is too much? Sometimes I'll be trying to describe an area that a character is in and find myself just throwing out words and not knowing when to stop with the details. I mean, I get the the reader doesn't need to know every square inch of the house, but still... where do I stop?
     
  2. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Think about what your character would actually notice (and in what order). Then consider whether the details are relevant, or if they create a mood or image that is particularly striking.
     
  3. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    You should make sure that each detail does at least TWO of the following: Develop setting, develop character, develop theme, develop plot.

    If it only develops setting, for example, it is not necessary. Keep in mind that the details that our characters notice can say a lot about them. To be stereotypical, a man might notice a woman's skirt, while a woman might notice her purse. (Flipping these could lead to more interesting and less stereotypical characters).

    With each detail, ask yourself: why is this detail necessary for the plot? How can I make it do more?
     
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  4. Lorravan
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    Lorravan Member

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    Thanks! I will definitely take that into account. I can definitely use this to help give personality to my characters now! :D
     
  5. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I adore this response. :love: Kudos.
     
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  6. blahfeld
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    blahfeld New Member

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    Same. There should be a "like" or "thumbs up" button :)
     
  7. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    It's too much detail when it impedes the forward momentum of the story.
     
  8. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I love this and completely agree.

    To expand on this-

    Think about what is the character looking at? The character is not going to look at the entire room if it's a room they go into all the time. Think about how you observe things when you go into a new place. Most people do sort of a quick sweep and focus in on things that are more relevant to them.

    Ex- I go into a person's room for the first time and I glance around to see what's in it. I will probably focus more on their personal items because I feel it tells me something about the person. I'm a very sentimental person as well so that makes sense that I would look at what someone else held dear enough to display in their room.
     
  9. A.Tad.of.Conrad
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    A.Tad.of.Conrad Member

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    This is a problem I have as well. I try to bring up what my MC would find most important while trying to be subtle about symbolism and foreshadowing.

    I just always try to be, above all things, orienting and descriptive.
     
  10. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    I believe there is a reputation system which serves the same function. :)
     
  11. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I remeber in Dragon Tattoo Larsson threw in stuff about the furniture being from Ikea - it had absolutely no bearing on the story but he had to go into every non-detail of the bland table and chairs. For the life of me I don't know why and it annoyed me. Had there been a fight where the cheap flat pack table smashed with ease as the burglar landed face down on it then he could be forgiven but there wasn't.

    Unimportant description that doesn't move the plot is not good.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    1 more word than the scene/plot calls for...
     
  13. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the amount of adequate description depends a lot on the scene itself: if somebody is running through a familiar room, trying to escape a violent burglar, they are likely to pay less attention to details around them than they would if they were a detective examining the room the next day with all the time in the world to check out tiny details.
     
  14. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    If you have so much detail that you can beat Robert Jordan then we have a problem...
     
  15. Logik
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    Logik Member

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    If it's something the character would comment on or have an attitude towards, that's usually enough.
     
  16. JayReader25
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    I would say that your writing would be too descriptive if you find your descriptions stopping character's dialogue and the character's thoughts as well. I had this problem with my novel sometimes you have to look back at a part you haven't edited in awhile and be sure to check for the flow of your story. Lastly, sometimes keeping it simple is a solution to this problem. Put yourself in the readers place once and awhile.
     
  17. Quoux
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    Quoux Member

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    There cannot be too much detail. There can only be too much unwarranted nonsense (however if the nonsense is warranted, by all means proceed :-D).

    I don't believe in telling writers how to write; I'll do my best to shed some light (with a wet match and a rusty lighter). I assume we are talking about a normal story, not some artistic jibber-jabber that could be seen written by Kurt Vonnegut or Samuel Beckett. In this sense the artistic properties still apply; however there are rules (remember: one must know the rules to break the rules). Try, for one, giving a description of the weather or climate. And then the atmosphere. And then the people. "TOO" much description can be located when you forget where you were going with the story... or when it makes your eyes tired to read.

    Never let your eyes get tired of reading your own story! Good writing should be like a hot cup of joe: It keeps you awake and coming back for more! (crashing afterward is optional)

    Another way to tell is this: what element will it apply to. Your basic literary elements are: Plot progression, clarity, Mood/Atmosphere, theme, tropes, symbolism, (and for poetry writers: prosody). If you can complete these factions; you've got yourself some good description. But since accomplishing all of these elements at once is comparatively similar to catching six plates falling from the sky (in a cartoon-like manner I'd hope), try to catch as many plates as you have hands; that is to say at least try to accomplish two elements. If you think you are really good, you could attempt to catch a third plate on your head or foot, and accomplish three elements.

    Artistic people have it different, you see. And if you are one, you'd know ;) feel free to take your details as far as you want.
     
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  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not true. There can be too much of anything.

    If detail does not materially add to the story, it is too much. The subtlety arises in determining whether the detail does materially add to the story. The contribuion may be modulation of pace, or establishment of atmosphere.

    What Maia said is absolutely correct. However it takes judgement that comes with experience to apply properly. It's not a principal that can be applied mechanically.
     
  19. Quoux
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    Quoux Member

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    Nonsense would naturally refer to what hinders the story :-D
     
  20. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Then your definition of "Detail" is inaccurate. Details can be nonsensical/unwarranted. These are not mutually exclusive ideas.
     
  21. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    I think you can continue describing until you feel it is enough that the readers can imagine the view you are transferring to their mind. It is not necessary you describe the details which is not relative to the story path anymore. For instance, when you are writing a story about a group of gangs that they are attacking to a bank and in that situation the bank manager is writing a letter to an office (before attacking ), it is not necessary you explain what he is writing in his letter, because it is out of the story path and doesn't make any sense for readers. You can just describe : " the manager of the bank was writing a letter " not more.
     
  22. Quoux
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    Quoux Member

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    Really? You said yourself that they had to apply to two of a certain number of elements (which it seems I also said). Unwarranted would be the lack of application to any element. I went in to explain it in my post, using a poor comparison to catching plates :-D

    And I love nonsense! That's why I encouraged it! But if it is completely irrelevant to any element, it would be... Unwarranted, and therefore hinder the story.
     
  23. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I'm not following what you're saying then. How can you say there "cannot be too much detail" and also say, "'TOO' much description can be located when you forget where you are going in your story?" These seem inherently contradictory.

    I agree with the second sentiment, though.
     
  24. Quoux
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    Quoux Member

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    When you forget where you are going in the story, your description has become unwarranted nonsense. Quotes were placed around "TOO" because I was using OP's words.
     
  25. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    When the writer becomes too controlling, stifling the readers' imagnation and hindering their participation in the experience.
     

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