Description is important, but don’t get lost in the details…

gray scale photo of gears

One of my favorite writing guides is, The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. My first brush with the guide was as a senior in high school. My favorite instruction is, “Vigorous writing is concise.” I haven’t always followed that advice, but the more I’ve written, the more I appreciate it.

When describing a scene, character, or event, our natural tendency is to include every detail we see in our mind’s eye. Be it colors, textures, emotions, or movement, we want the reader to get the full picture. The problem is, we sometimes obscure what is most important with details the reader doesn’t need. I’ve done it more than once or thirty times myself.

I’m a detail oriented observer. It’s only natural for me to include those details when I write. Fortunately, I’ve had critique partners who helped me see beyond the crush of description. In my writing today (I hope to) show enough to build the scene, imply enough for the readers’ imagination to fill in the gaps, and avoid extra words, sentences and paragraphs. (Thank you William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White)

You’ve built this incredible, expansive world for your characters. Naturally you want to show it off. You send your characters on a tour of the majesty you’ve created. They may have no reason, or a thinly veiled mission to find the butter for their toast. In the process the search every nook and cranny of whatever you want to show off.

Another peril of too much detail comes from what some writers call journaling. This is not much more than a record of what your character does, where she goes, or conversations she has. Its often filler material for the author to move a character from one scene to another, but they can’t bring themselves to say, “The next evening…”

Details can bring a scene to life, they can make a character memorable, and they can help with any aspect of your story. Too many details, or including them for no real reason, can leave your writing dense and confusing. If readers are assaulted by too many details, they won’t have any idea what they should focus on or remember for later in the story. Give your reader everything they need, you won’t be there to explain the story, but avoid unnecessary details.

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