1. Blips
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    Blips Member

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    Vivid world. detailed descriptions?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Blips, Aug 23, 2010.

    Partially due to the setting of my story taking place approximately 45 years in the future and partially due to the fact that I mentally construct almost everything I'm putting down on (digital) paper: I'm finding that I spend a large amount of time detailing aspects of the world that don't necessarily need to be known.

    My rational is: to create a world that is as believable as possible and to fully impression upon the reader the type of world it is, I need to take my time and flesh it out in detail.

    A quick example would be how I've spent about 200 words describing the construction (shape & materials) and functionality of a few cop cars. I'm not wasting time explaining things the reader would probably already know like the fact that there are 4 tires. But I do spend time describing the differences; things that the reader would not know of or expect.

    And this doesn't end with the cop cars, I've done this the buildings, streets, the general landscape, the tiltrotors, gadgets and more.

    I'm also basing almost everything I write off of real world examples or possible future examples to make the overall piece feel more grounded.

    I guess my concern and question is: do you enjoy this sort of exposition (granted it doesn't ramble on and on about the same thing)? Does it allow you to absorb yourself further into the world and as a result - appreciate the story and characters more? Or does it annoy/bore you, making you wish the writing would just get back to what really matters?
     
  2. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Too much detail for me is a turn off. I don't like to have to read great chunks of it.
    For me action and story are what holds my attention.
     
  3. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the detail is important to the story, then include it. If it isn't, don't. A reader wants a story, not an instruction manual. It matters if the car goes quickly, but that doesn't mean you need to go into detail about the V8 engine.
     
  4. Blips
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    Blips Member

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    I've been more describing the visual attributes of things in the world (like the interior cabin of the car).
     
  5. zeem33
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    zeem33 Member

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    It's really hard to give a general statement response to this. It depends mostly on the writer and whether their description is clever/witty/interesting enough. Usually (almost always :) ) the case is no. It's a real bore reading through long strands of irrelevant information.

    My advice would be to 'create' the detail for yourself but not to use all of it; maybe a small paragraph or sentence here and there. That way the reader will feel he's experiencing a small part of the vast world you've built.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In general, I don't want that much detail. It might be useful for you to write reams and reams of it for _yourself_, so that you know that the whole thing ties together and you won't have embarrassing contradictions. But I think that very little of it should actually appear in the book.
     
  7. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does it affect the story? First question you should ask. If the cabin is dark and soberly upholstered, mention that, but don't go into too much detail. Concentrate on driving the story onwards.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Create your world in all the detail you want. But only show the reader the detail necessary to understand the story. You may think the cars and planes you write about are really cool, and they probably are. But that coolness probably doesn't matter to the story. Your expositions about these items in your story might start coming off to the reader the way commercials do on a TV show. If your character gets into a car, the reader wants to see him drive away; he doesn't want the action to stop so that you can do a car commercial, full of beauty shots of the interior and exterior and lists of features and so on. The car might be cool, but what do you do when a commercial comes on TV? You take a restroom break, or go get yourself a beer. If you've recorded the show, you fast-forward through the commercials. That's what your reader will do with your excess exposition.
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I do fast-forward commercials on recorded shows, but if my boyfriend later talks about the cool jeans commercial shown during the show, I come back and watch the commercial. Mind you though, I watch only the part in the commercial which my boyfriend was talking about.

    P.S. Cool allegory Minstrel ;)
     
  10. Cecil
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    Cecil Member

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    I think your story should fulfill the goals you set for it. Ask yourself what your first priority is in writing. For example, The Lord of the Rings spends tons of time with elaborate world building details. For me, that weakens the story because it's unfocused. This is probably because I don't care about Tolkien's world, I just care about the characters and the plot. On the other hand, some people love how well developed the world is and how much the reader gets to learn about it.

    It's a matter of balancing what's most important about your story. Remember though that if being published is a high priority for you, character and plot are usually what more people want to read. In that case, the world details should include only what is needed to further the character's and the plot, with maybe a few additional details to make the setting clear and to make it feel deep. Of course, you should take your target audience into account as well if you care about being published.
     
  11. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Irrelevant description is always irrelevant. You could mention the interior of the cop car in relation to the character who's taking a seat in it -- how it feels to him to rest his tired body in the comforting embrace of the intelligent, self-adjusting seat, for example. But don't describe the built-in ash tray unless he's a smoker.

    Readers are pretty good at filling in blanks. If they're aware that the story takes place in the future they won't imagine your cityscape with thatched roofs.
     
  12. Blips
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    Blips Member

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    Ok I should probably have mentioned this. I'm not going out of my way, simply listing things and how they look / etc. I'm describing noteworthy objects, places, etc as they are encountered by the story.

    The cop cars for example. I introduce them naturally (they're responding to situation relevant to the story) and I describe their general exteriors / interiors as they are speeding towards their destination.
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    My suggestion was really to describe things through your characters' experience of them. If your characters are focusing on something else themselves when the cop cars are rushing towards a crime scene, then descriptions of their appearance can very easily dellude the drama and tension. The cops in the cars are probably focused on the road and their destination, and the criminal is probably focused on escaping. Neither is particularly concerned about industrial design at this point.

    If it helps, consider how much space (time) is given to reveal appearance in similar scenes in a movie. A car chase scene is often edited extremely tight with only glimpses of everything, and sometimes it's even impossible to tell what brands of cars are used. Now imagine if they put in a 10 second clip with a rotating display of the car under perfect lighting conditions, right in the middle of the hectic scene...just to let the audience know what it looks like.
     
  14. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    It's one of my most resistant problems.

    Essentially, you must know those things of your world will feel inconsistent. However, you have to avoid telling all those things or you'll make a manual instead of a story.

    What I do is write about the world in a document, then save it for myself and start another document for the story. From time to time I review the world description document to check if I've broken any of its "rules" and I update it with other things that may have appeared during the story itself. I also reread the story from time to time to check whether it's consistent with the world description.

    That way I don't have to avoid the description being horribly boring; nobody will ever read it but me. At the same time, my story gives bits and pieces that fit together nicely and let the reader feel an underlying coherent reality.
     
  15. Perdondaris
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    Perdondaris Member

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    Describe your world when it develops atmosphere, or is important to the plot. Of course, if you're utilizing certain themes, it may well further the atmosphere to describe something which involves this. For example, if your story involves a conflict between nature and space, how you describe each will be important, especially if their relationship is dynamic, in which case you can vary up the descriptions (tone, imagery, etc) in order to express this. In a first-person narrative, this can also indicate a shift in the narrator's view on things, such as a dissatisfaction with the world as it is, fear, hopelessness, or alternatively a feeling of control, etc.

    So yes, generally immersing your reader in your world is important, but you should make sure that your world isn't just neutral, as much of hard sci-fi tends to make it (you attach the laser to the diangulating reborberator, and connect this to the fishstick loci). For example, in a dystopian novel, describing the world is important, but inasmuch as it develops the general atmosphere of the world, otherwise it's just trivia and should probably be left out.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm creating a website with back legends, and world details. Anyone interested with internet access can log on, but it doesn't need to go in the stories then. If my stories get published then may consider doing a book from the website.
     
  17. Phlogiston
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    Phlogiston Member

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    To back up what's already been said, long descriptions and wotnot do need to benefit the story.

    Remember, the idea of a story is that the reader should become almost lost in it. When I read a fantastically detail new world, I want to forget that I'm reading a book.

    If you have lots of descriptions of the 'it may not be that relevant, but it is darn interesting' kind all you are doing is saying to the reader 'your reading a book, remember this is not real'.

    In short, descriptions are good so long as they do not break that holy grail of a suspension of disbelief.
     
  18. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    I have to agree with everyone else--mundane world-building details bore me to death. The only time I need to know about the interior and exterior design of a vehicle is when those details directly impact my ability to understand what's happening in the story. For example, if the cop car speeding to a crime scene "descends from above", well, it'd probably be good if I knew that it could fly. But if it's just driving to the scene and that's its only purpose in the story, I could care less about it, even if the author has imagined a super-cool, high-tech vehicle unlike any I've ever encountered.

    I get that you're not detailing objects that aren't being encountered by your characters within the context of the story, but my advice is to limit your descriptions to the strictly necessary. Setting the stage and grounding the reader in a specific place is important, but one or two carefully constructed sentences should do the trick (unless the description is vital to understanding, as I said). IMHO, 200 words to describe the design and function of a cop car that is merely racing to the scene is excessive. I would skip right over it. Enough moments like that, I would struggle to stay with the book.

    If your book makes it to a professional editor, I suspect a lot of the extraneous description will get cut. When I first started out I had a tendency to be way overly verbose--being edited pretty quickly taught me the importance and art of being succinct.
     
  19. omaha
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    omaha New Member

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    I like reading sci-fi, but I don't enjoy large amounts of description. A lot of it seems unnecessary. I think the best descriptions comes from the eyes of the characters who live there, and it is usually best and most effective in small doses.
     
  20. Blips
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    Blips Member

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    This is exactly what I'm trying to do :D. I guess I'm just a bit worried between the balance of story vs atmosphere.

    I'm definitely trying to stay away from cliches or generic settings / characters / etc. I feel that I've already established a very unique world - only time will tell if I'm right I suppose.


    I'm curious about the kind of stories you read (and others who feel the same way). I know from my own experience, every (enjoyable) story that I've ever read that doesn't take place in present-day, real world setting has spent lots of time fleshing out the world (some parts in detail more so than others).

    How can you become invested into an unknown world if little time is taken to fully flesh it out? How can the author form a picture in your mind of what you're "seeing" if he doesn't describe the surroundings?

    Allan Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King and others that I have read have spent considerable time detailing the world. Poe actually took this to an extreme in some of his stories - where it seemed to spent pages and pages just talking about architecture which truthfully did bore me. Though of course, while reading stories form these authors, I wasn't analyzing the text to see how many words were devoted to detailing objects or settings.
     
  21. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    The answer is: he probably can't.

    The suggestion, however, is not "avoid describing the world." but "avoid having fragments of your text whose only objective is to describe the world."

    You can write:
    The door had a handprint sensor which compared the user with the company database to check for permissions. Bob had hacked the server, so he could enter without any problems.

    Or you could write:
    Bob put his hand on the palm reader.
    "Good afternoon Mrs. Jennings" greeted a soft melodious voice while the door opened with a faint brushing sound.
    "Cheers to you too, pretty lady door." said Bob with a falsetto voice, smiling at his own wit.


    [With excuses for my lack of english writing skills]
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me personally Robert Neill is the best author for getting this just about right. He has descriptions that don't get in the way but are so full you are in no doubt about how the world looks.

    His world is 17th Century Lancashire in most of his books although he branches out sometimes. However it is an alien world to those of us in the 21st Century. I recommend the likes of Mist Over Pendle and Witchfire at Lammas. Just to see how he does it.
     
  23. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    I'm going with the idea that I'll describe things that my character notices and is interested in.

    For example (from my sci-fi WIP):

    P.S. It's set in 46,000 A.D. but I figured there should still be a little bit of "magic" to technology.
     
  24. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Minireview. :)

     
  25. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't get eaten by world builders disease.

    To paint a vivid mental picture you need strong moods, a few strong details and you -dont- need to go in detail or explain stuff to paint a vivid picture.

    If you were to write a story about someone working at a bank, you might visit a few banks at talk with people at banks an do a -little- economic reading at home. Getting to know exactly how every part of the whole f------ tack system works wont help you story.

    Less is more. It you want peoples imagination, immersion and investment in the story to run wild you shouldn't insert fact dumps or have the ambition to have the whole wikipedia entry on everything about artic exploration in every aspect.

    You should give them a few details, a lot of colors and trust the imagination of the reader to work out the rest. Imho.

    Compare wikipedias entry on "Arctic exploration" with the picture below. If you want to tell a story, not making a fictional fact book, painting a vivid picture is about delivering a few details, but loots of mood and color.

    [​IMG]

    You dont need to present the facts, if you just write the story consistently the in-story logic and facts will be understood without much explaining.
     

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