Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Devil Is in the Details: Too Much Detail in Your Writing?

Detail is good, but when is it too much? Here's an answer by Vivian Gilbert Zabel.

Too Much Detail Stops the Flow
By Vivian Gilbert Zabel

Writing a good story requires the author have enough detail that the reader knows who, what, when, where, why, and how without over-loading with unneeded information. A novel can contain more detail than a short story, but paragraphs filled with exposition loses the reader’s attention. For example, read the following paragraph:

The angry man strode toward the French doors. The tall windows reflected the fire burning in the fireplace. The antique furniture shone with a high gloss. Candles provided the only light other than that of the fire. A glass of liquid sat beside a cut glass container on a small table in front of one sofa. A Persian rug covered high gloss wood floors.

The above paragraph describes a lovely room, doesn't it? What it doesn't do is move the story along. Unless all those details are needed for plot, then they don't belong in a story. Any that are needed should be woven into the story in such a way that the flow of the story isn't disrupted.

The angry man strode toward the French windows. His anger blinded him, but even if he wanted to see outside, the windows reflected only the fire burning in the fireplace.

"What were you thinking?" He whirled to face the woman who sipped from a glass before placing it on the table.

Two of the details are included into the action, giving enough detail to help the reader "see" what happens without de-railing the plot. As the story progresses, more of the details, if needed or wanted, can be included as part of the action or storyline.

Sometimes I've received reviews wanting to know more details than given or needed in the story. Short means just that, short. Everything cannot be included that would be found in a novel. An author needs to know what to include and what to eliminate to make the story alive and moving. Readers need to realize that wanting to know more about the characters doesn't mean that more information is needed, but that the writer did a good job of making the characters believable and interesting.

In a novel, when too much information in included at one time, those details that don’t “move the plot” forward, reader will skip those paragraphs to find where the story line continues. Just because one writes a book doesn’t mean that every single detail be included.

Therefore, we need enough detail to give readers a sense of where the action or story is taking place, but we shouldn’t include so much that the flow of the story is disrupted.

Vivian Gilbert Zabel taught writing for twenty-five years, honing her skills as she studied and taught. An author on Writers (http://www.Writing.Com/ ), her portfolio can be found at http://www.Writing.Com/authors/vzabel. Her books, Hidden Lies and Other Stories, Walking the Earth, and The Base Stealers Club, can be found through book stores or

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