Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by johann77, Dec 1, 2012.
How much is to much detail? Or when is there to much detail?
It really depends on your person writing style and the imagery you are trying to portray. If you are describing down to the tiniest intricate detail, then it may be too much, especially if there is no real significance. Usually, (at least for me) after I have written, I can go back and see if I have added too much detail and fix it. It is easy to get carried away, but too little detail can not correctly portray the imagery and emotions. It really is at your discretion, if it feels right for you then you are good. No one will know how the story pans out except you, make sure you express/explain it enough. Good luck!
You've got to get more specific with your questions!
Anyway, the basic answer is that there's too much detail if it's boring. But that isn't very helpful, because it immediately brings up questions such as: "Boring to whom?" And: "How important are the details to the story?"
My advice to a beginner is to keep detail to a minimum. Then look at the draft and add detail where it seems necessary. There are no hard and fast rules, but starting with little and building from there will probably (in my opinion) get you closer to what you want than starting with too much and trying to cut. Good luck!
It's a balance. You need to have enough detail to describe the scene / setting etc sufficiently for the reader to picture it, and not so much that it becomes distracting from the story / boring. Of course all readers just as all writers are different, and some will want more and some less.
You will sadly never please everyone. But the best way to check is to put the work in the hands of someone else whose judgement you trust and let them decide.
Recently I have wondered the same thing. In the scene I am writing at the moment, a young girl enters a Manor House. I wanted to describe the interior of the entrance hall and I got so carried away with recreating atmosphere that I described everything; the decaying smell of neglect, the panel walls, the sweeping staircase, the furniture and and everything the girl could see, until even I thought I'd gone too far.
I have come to the conclusion the best way to decribe something or someone, is to focus on what is important. Important to the story or the person within the scene. Like a photographer would, they would have a focal point something to draw the eye, everything else would be out of focus (less important) and I think thats the best way to describe things in creative writing. Draw the (minds) eye to the focial point.
The best is to think of things to describe which tells you something about the place by just being there.
Like a broken vase - why is it broken? It also contributes to the idea of neglect, or violence.
Perhaps there's a teddy bear with one eye missing on a little girl's bed, there're no toys on the shelves. The family's poor, but the parents still try to provide (the teddy) but it's probably the first and only toy the girl has.
What you don't wanna describe is: "He enters a lounge. There is a blue couch in a corner and a TV stand opposite it. In the corner there's a tall bookcase." None of that is interesting and none of these details actually tell me anything unique about the person who lives here. These pictures that you give the reader should tell the reader more than meets the eye - a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say - it is the same with descriptions.
Actually this was Johan77's question not mine but thanks for the idea's. He wanted to know how much description was too much?
BTW* The Manor in question is very old, full of dust and neglect, the old man who lived there, now dead, only occupted one room of the huge manor leaving the rest to decay. This is the girl's new home - she is exploring it for the first time. I wanted to show he wonder but also the neglect and decay without going too far with my descriptions.
Too much detail is any detail that is an afterthought and adds nothing to the story. Added detail always slows the pace, so make sure that part of the story can accept that detail without weakening the action.
As with the other comments here, I agree that careful consideration has to be given to how much detail you include in your descriptions. When reading a book, I get impatient if there is too much detailed description of seemingly unimportant objects/places - it becomes detail for detail's sake, so to speak.
Most newer books I have read tend to err on the side of impressionistic descriptions: giving you a general idea of a room/place and its atmosphere (through use of colours, objects, sound, etc.) but without going into minute detail unless some particular object catches the protagonist's eye/is particularly important. I prefer this approach unless the detail has a purpose. It is more realistic. I seldom go into a room and study everything in it (unless I'm in a museum).
Katherine Mansfield's short stories are full of observational/descriptive detail, but she uses it – in conjunction with narrative techniques like describing the world through the eyes of the character - to build up atmosphere and articulate character psychology. However she still avoids going into minute detail unless it is really important.
Having said that, though, I do think it is also a matter of personal preference: I find it hard to read Dickens sometimes because of his lengthy and detailed descriptions, but some people really enjoy that aspect of his books.
read/study how the best writers [does not = most popular] of the 20th-21st centuries, to see for yourself the benefits of both spare and detailed description... then go with whatever works best for your 'voice' and each of your stories...
I'd be harsh and say that too much detail is anything that doesn't fit the POV you are writing from. Even the so-called omniscient third person is not completely omniscient - there are so much to choose from that you have to choose what you're gonna show.
Regarding cazann34's Manor - I'd go even further, not only do you have to show what is important for the owner of the house, but you have to think about what is it a little girl would see - because you are describing the scene by "standing on her shoulder".
I think it depends on the project - a fantasy story will have more description than say a hard boiled
crime thriller but don't give details that serve no purpose if they don't advance the plot, enhance
the characters, or build the setting - ask yourself what are they there for?
Also when you chop out the redundancy you can actually lengthen your descriptions.
i.e.- I looked around the room and saw velvet drapes hanging from the windows.
Though there doesn't apparently look like there is anything wrong with the sentence -
why say looked around and saw,( but then again why even state your character is seeing or looking
usually that goes without saying ) why say - hanging from windows when
where else would drapes be?
Why not have the character think - Velvet drapes on her salary?
- for less words I've done two things - I've shown my mc is sarcastic and believes her
friend is doing something shady.
If the scene is from a particular point of view (like a maniac's POV or a character's POV with an obsessive behaviour), it may have sense to give tiny details in a description. But, then, this description will have the function to reveal a character's part of behaviour to the reader. Thus, it will need to be written like an obsessive person would have done it.
As Maia says, it boils down to your writing style and how fast or slow you want a novel to flow. Dialogue picks up the pace while description slows it down. So, you pick and choose when you want to use it to not only let the reader see the scene, but the make sure you don't slow yourself down too much.
One of the hardest things for new writers to learn is how to get the mix that matches who there are. Commercially viable (as in being published by the Big 6 not independent or self-published) puts you in a box of 80-120k words with 80-100k being the range for brand new writers. So, when dealing with that "box" each word needs to matter, and use as few as necessary to get your point against. Because even if you've got 90k done when finished with your rough draft, a good, tight hard copy edit probably will eat up 15-20% of that (in my case it does...depends on each writer's style) so you be back at 72k words which gives 8-18k for adding to your characterization, description if necessary and any subplots involved.
In a nutshell, do what you need to do and not one word more. Make your words count. Pick the best verb making sentences. All of these will help.
I overwrite my drafts, including too much detail, and then trim the non-essential points on rewrite. That way I have a menu of possibilities; on rewrite I can preserve the details that might provide some foreshadowing or insight into the character, as Peachalulu points out.
I think (but I'm not sure) that the best thing to do is describe that which is resonant to your character/s. Details that aren't relevant or meaningful to them are pretty much redundant and should be dispensed with.
I do however believe that there is a 'floor' below which too little detail can leave the picture incomplete. For me, I liken detail levels to colour depths in computer graphics. The simplest is 1 bit, or line art, which is very basic and sparse. Then you have 8 bit greyscale, or monotone (a single colour, most commonly grey, hence 'greyscale'), which has light and shade, but lacks warmth. 16 bit adds the colours across the spectrum, but in doing so lacks some of the subtleties in shading. 24 bit is full colour, with all the strengths and weaknesses that you can imagine.
The best approach I can think of is variations in the combinations of these. Sometimes detail needs to be simple like line art, get the information out of the way quickly. Other times it needs to have a shade to it, like greyscale. Still other times a bold splash of primary colour is required. But most times I feel that a slightly washed out general spread of colour is required - something between 8 bit and 16 bit, so 12 bit (which doesn't, to all intents and purposes, exist in computer graphics terminology).
Personally, I think that you should only describe what you NEED for the story. I've been thinking about this a lot recently because my wife has been laughing at the Wheel of Time forums.
A very noisy opinion at the moment is that Brandon Sanderson (who's taken over from Robert Jordan) doesn't have as strong a use of prose. My opinion is that's Robert Jordan's prose isn't particularly strong, just exhaustive. As stated earlier, it slows things down. Brandon Sanderson uses much less and the pace of his books is much quicker and they're easier to read.
Clearly though, there are people who LOVE knowing the exact shade of green that the girl's dress is, as well as the cut, accessories, age, thread count etc.
I think just write how you write and see how you go.
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