1. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    How much is too much detail?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by live2write, Apr 16, 2012.

    I have a common problem with writing and that is writing too much detail. I like to describe every scenario and every character trait down to the color of the buttons on a shirt.

    How much is too much detail and how much is enough?

    Should I give the audience a general idea or the entire detailed package.

    Specifically I am writing a science fiction story.
     
  2. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    Science fiction typically requires the writer to do a lot more descriptive work in their work. Readers fill in a lot of gaps themselves, I can write "I walked into the office," and you envision computers, cubicles, photocopiers and people dressed in suits before I've even said a word. If I say, "I walked into the Jungardo Complex on Persephone," it means nothing, so I then have to describe exactly what the place looks like otherwise I and the reader lose our synchronicity in experience. But saying that, you still don't need to go overboard. I always use the illustration of dot-to-dot puzzles, you give the reader just enough information so that they can work out what it's a picture of, then they add the colour themselves. Only describe things in absolute detail if it's a plot point (the button of your example becomes a clue in a crime).
     
  3. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    When a detail is not necessary then it is too much. Details are nice for visualization, but the readers have imagination and sometimes it's nice to let them fill the gaps, so to speak. Unless there's a point you want to come across with those details, I think you should just give the general idea... But then, it's your writing, and perhaps it works even with the details.
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    it's not like it's no detail vs too much detail. the third option would be to not give more information than the reader need to get a vivid picture of the scene. Sometimes too much detail slows down the story and as a reader you forget what was actually happening in it and I guess you don't want that.
     
  5. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    what I am afraid is my audience to be too caught up on the details. Another addition to the question is the actions of the characters. Do you describe every action or only the ones that show the story.
     
  6. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    For actions, I go with ones with are important because of plot of character. It is better to show that a character is nervous than just to openly state it. So it can be good for conveying body language. It's vital for fight scenes to be more descriptive, but I don't think you need to write every blink, scratch, burp and step, a paragraph about a character tying his shoelaces is not needed either (unless while he's bending over an axe comes flying over his head). As a rule, if you can take something away without it affecting the plot, character of setting, do it.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Measure whether it's too much detail by its impact on the pace. Some sections tolerate, or even require, a slower pace. That is a good place to expand the level of detail. But where the pace is rapid, trim the details down to the bare minimum.
     
  8. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say confine yourself to the details and actions that communicate the story. Now, they don't necessarily have to _directly_ be a part of story events. For example, the fact that Joe is building a weathered train station building for his model train layout may tell us things about his character, even if that model train layout is never relevant to the story. But I don't think that details should be included just because they can.

    If you imagine _speaking_ a story, maybe sitting at dinner and telling a story about a friend, you might say,

    "So Joe was walking into this diner for breakfast - he eats there every weekday - and he says to his least favorite waitress...."

    You wouldn't say,

    "So Joe woke up at 8:00. He turned off the alarm. He got off of his TempurPedic mattress and put his feet into his blue slippers. He..."

    and go on and on for two hours until you get to the diner scene. You skip all that and start with the diner, because that's where the interesting events happen. And you usually don't give a lot of details about the name and location and age and floor color of the diner, because those don't matter.

    Unless, of course, they _do_ matter:

    "..and he says to his least favorite waitress, 'When are you going to remodel this place?' See, the diner looks like they haven't spent a penny on it since 1955--one of those horrible old linoleum floors, and counter seats all patched up with duct tape, and speckly formica counters with those weird space age stars, you know what I mean? And the waitress says..."

    In the above case, the details are relevant to the "When are you going to remodel this place?" conversation. You still wouldn't give every conceivable detail--maybe the clock and the grill and the front door and the straw holders also back up the picture of no money spent, but the details you gave are enough, so you don't insist on boring your listeners with every little detail you can think of.

    All of my examples are about spoken conversation, because I think that we're all more familiar with deciding what to include and what to leave out, in spoken conversation. We all have a gut feel for how long we can rattle on before people stop listening. I think that translating that gut feel to writing, and judging how long you can rattle on in writing before the reader will put the book down, can be useful.

    ChickenFreak
     
  10. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    When there is a detail that doesn't particularly propel the plot, I try to leave it out, BUT for me this is difficult because I like to write in historic time periods, so I have to describe the clothing, furniture and overall surroundings in detail, which sometimes can be a pain. If you feel you have to include all the details, try to do it in a way that makes it flow. Which sometimes can be hard, but once you learn how to do it, it really does come in handy.
     
  11. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Be it science fiction or otherwise, choose ONE (or two at the most) character trait(s), preferably a unique one, and develop it/them throughout the story. Too many character traits can make the character confusing.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    As a reader I dislike (this is too mild a word) overtly detailed descriptions. But, if you like writing them, by all means write them in the first draft, make it 200,000 words and thne slash those unnecessary descriptions out in yor editing stage, and you'll be left with a vividly written 120,000 novel.
     
  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    that's a good advice! :)
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I must say, if you describe everything down to the colour of the button on someone's shirt, and this kinda detail is everywhere, trust me when I say I would most certainly put the book down and never pick up another one of your books ever again. You might think your story is your baby, but to any other reader, it's just a story to which they have no attachment - until you make them attached and love it like you do. But until they do, they just won't care exactly which colour the buttons are in or if the doorknob is round and silver. And if you drown your story in detail, your reader will soon start skimming and miss actually important details.

    Give enough just for your readers to visualise the place, and leave it at that.
     
  15. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    You want to keep the reader reading. That is your primary goal. If you go into too much detail, you run the risk of boring your reader because they may start craving dialogue, action, etc. However, if the content is incredibly interesting, or if you describe it in a really interesting way, you can actually engage the reader more. You will keep them reading BECAUSE you are describing it in detail.

    The difficulty here is that, while YOU might think it's extremely interesting, your reader may not. Having people critique your work will help clear this up.
     
  16. John Cleary
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    John Cleary Member

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    The story guides you - The scene guides you.

    The most straight forward answer I can think of is you do both. When a scene in your story demands detail give it detail, when your story demands a general idea write the general idea. Your story and what you're trying to convey informs the level of detail needed. It may seem overly simplistic but, in my view, by your 10[SUP]th[/SUP] revision you'll know how much detail to write. Good luck.
     
  17. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    This.

    Because, while the idea of reading about the color of buttons is mind-numbing, it can be pulled off if done right.

    Having a critique partner will help you make sure you are not boring the reader.
     

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