Monday, January 31, 2011

Too many details or too few details

I've mentioned that I'm working on the sequel to Chasing Filthy Lucre. I'm not that far along, but I'm already seeing something that I may have to go back and fix in the editing. Description, I've got very little of it. I am setting some of the story in a few of the places that I introduced in Lucre. I know that everyone who reads one book won't read the other. That's why I've been spending so much energy trying to make sure I sneak in back story so new readers won't be lost. And I'm trying to reintroduce characters and places in a way that won't bore those who've read Lucre but allows new readers to know who these people are.

When I wrote Lucre I tried to go into some detail in that book about how these places look and what the world of the story was like. I wanted to paint that picture for the reader, and also for myself. I'll admit that it was hard to do. As a writer, I'm not naturally wired to go into deep description. I want the story to move and too much description slows that down. I want a story to move as a reader also. Taking a page to tell me how someone's hair falls across their face or how their eyes are green pulls me out of a story. I prefer one well-thought description about someone thrown into a scene.

One I've used before is to describe someone's accessories they are wearing. Having a waitress wear watermelon earrings, for example. That tells me a little about what she looks like and, also, a little about who she is. It takes a certain kind of person to wear watermelon earrings. Someone fun. Someone a little bold, a little loud. An outgoing personality who doesn't mind it when others notice her. At least that's what it tells me. And here's my dilemma. Does a single description say that to everyone? Or do most readers just read watermelon earrings as watermelon earrings? Am I doing a disservice to my readers by not telling them that the waitress was a tall redhead with tight curls. And when she wasn't smacking her gum she was pushing it between the gap in her front teeth.

I ask these questions because I want to get better. I want to do what the readers want and one criticism I've received from people in my critique group is that I don't go into enough detail about what my characters look like. I don't paint that picture that I mentioned earlier.

So what's the answer here? Do readers want a pretty picture, or do they want that one great detail?


  1. Great post! In the series I'm writing I tend to describe the character in short bursts instead of a full out description like I did in the first one. I give a little hair color here and an eye color there, but I do it in relation to the dialogue. It seems to work well for me and my readers. I think they like have subtle reminders, but I think a drawn out description in follow up books is something they'd likely skip right through.Happy Writing!

  2. Great post! In all honesty...I liked reading this about that character above...

    "that the waitress was a tall redhead with tight curls. And when she wasn't smacking her gum she was pushing it between the gap in her front teeth."

    Made me imagine her better than just the image of a girl wearing watermelon earings.

    It is great that you want to help yourself improve by opening it up for discussion...but I imagine it would be quite difficult to please so many readers. Just be careful and try to find what works for you and remember how you like to read such things.

  3. Can I be honest, Sabrina? When I wrote those example lines of description I kind of liked them, especially the gum bit. That's the kind of detail I like as far as description goes.

    So maybe I didn't give the best example.

  4. And thanks for commenting, ladies.

  5. I agree with Sabrina. You really need more description. I need more of a visual than just a woman with watermelon earrings. Just because she has them on does not necessarily make her bold, loud, or whatever you described her as. Of course, I like a little more description than you do, but you are right, too much loses me too.