In my most recent post, I took a look at how details matter in a novel—to the degree that you may lose readers if you flub up the details in your story. Of course, it’s also possible to make sure you have all the details straight and then go too far with them … as in drowning a reader in the details you give.
Let’s look at an example:
The sun-kissed, billowy-clouded azure sky overhead contrasted starkly with the terrifying obsidian-plated killer android that was sickeningly immune to the 7.62mm M61 150.5-grain armor-piercing rounds that we fired at it in staccato rhythm like there was no tomorrow.
Gurgle-gurgle … Blub-blub … And the reader has gone under.
I think we’ve all read novels with hyper-detailed scenes that have left us feeling like we’re sinking in deep waters, flailing about for a life preserver. Thus, when you’re serious about doing your best to show readers what’s happening in a scene, don’t overwhelm them with a tidal wave of details that will swamp them under.
The key is to make sure the reader has enough details to get his or her imagination going, but not so many that there’s little left to the imagination—or that it just makes for a really difficult read, as in the passage above. So, here’s a leaner version:
The sun-kissed sky overhead stood in stark contrast to the deadly android that proved itself immune to the armor-piercing rounds we fired at it in staccato rhythm.
A decent rewrite, and it certainly does the job in terms of slimming down the over-detailed original passage, and it even gets rid of a tired, old cliché (like there was no tomorrow). In reality, a reader should be able to imagine what’s happening with a sentence like this—as long as the author did a good job with the rest of the scene (i.e., the context).
When it comes to self-editing your own work, ask yourself if you’re including details because they’re necessary, or if you’re simply putting them in because you love the way they sound—or, worse, because you feel the need to explain something to your reader. Again, context matters, and if you’ve done your job throughout a scene, your reader shouldn’t need detailed explanations.
Beyond self-editing, trusted beta readers can really help out in this area, because they’ll let you know if you’ve drowned them in too many details. If you get feedback that says you’ve gone overboard on details, take it to heart and be ruthless in taking a hard look at your writing.
So, when it comes to details, the bottom line is: just enough … but not overkill. Practice will help make perfect, and reading plenty of novels will also help you see how to better handle details in your own writing.
And if you’re in the Philadelphia region, please check out the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference, taking place July 26-29. Hope to see you there!