Longer ago than I'd like to specify, when I was fresh out of college, I interned at Deseret Book, one of Utah's major publishers. While I was there, my supervisor asked for my interpretation of a confusing bit of wording in a book she was editing: the third volume of the Adventurers Wanted series. This was the first I'd heard of the series, and the premise sounded interesting. So even though the books are geared toward junior-high-aged readers, I decided to try them.
Honestly? The first book . . . kind of drove me bananas. And it wasn't just the overused fantasy tropes (which are a subject for an entirely different post). The author seems to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining in what order the adventurers are riding on the trail, how much they're laughing, and who's bowing to whom. Even more problematically, there are ten or so people in this group!
I found myself thinking, "Who. Cares?"
Details can be tricky to manage in writing. We need to give enough of them for readers to get an accurate picture of what's happening. But we don't want to give so many details that our readers tune out. *cough* Tolkien *cough*
So how do we find the balance?
There's no easy answer to that question. Some people say that you should cut details until a passage doesn't make sense, then slowly add them back in until you find the sweet spot with just enough but not too many. I prefer to minimize how much of this I have to do by taking the approach suggested in this quote (which I've had to heavily paraphrase because I can't find the source or the author's name):
"If I write about an old woman, you begin to drift off. But if I write about the dark mole on the side of her nose with a stiff black hair sticking out of it, I need say nothing more; you fill in the rest of the details for yourself. If I write about an old car in the driveway, it is nothing special. But if I write about a character plunging his hand through the stuffing spilling out of a cracked seat and coming up with a weathered leather coin purse, you will be mine."
In other words, by focusing our descriptions on the most vivid details, we make a few words go a long way toward helping our readers picture the scene.
Are you struggling to get the details right in a scene that you don't mind sharing? Send me a copy at storyengineer7 AT gmail.com, and I'll pick one to walk through in a future post.
(Thanks to Tim Rebkavets for sharing their work on Unsplash.)