Keep Calm and Delete Excess Details


“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”

Stephan King | ON WRITING

When writing, you dance the fine line of too-much-detail and not-enough-detail. Trust me, it can drive a person insane. (I wouldn’t…um, er…know from experience or anything.)

When I started writing (ancient history, I know), I layered on the details like peanut butter to a nut addict. I always found it super exciting when I knew something interesting. Let’s share it with the world! Don’t you want to know the details of why my fantasy world has this secret cave that leads to this secret beach that no one knew about for hundreds of years, except for that one dude with the secret key who’s related to the main character’s second cousin!

Exciting, right?!

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When it comes to writing,  less is more. (There are always exceptions, of course.)

Going off on little bunny-trails in your writing is often boring and unnecessary. Going back to that delicious peanut butter illustration:  description should be like vegemite. You only need a smear to pack a punch!

Look at this fabulous piece of description by Neil Gaiman:

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”

Neil Gaiman | AMERICAN GODS

Why is it interesting?

  • It uses curious similes: “haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies” (say what?!)
  • It uses contrasting images, like “musty” and “sweet”.
  • It mentions food.

When in doubt, mention food in your description. Serious.

Lengthy description can be fine, but make sure it moves your story forward and you don’t get lost writing it. Remember: is it important to the story? If we  really need to know what the house is built of (brick or straw or ginger bread), do tell us! But if we don’t…skip it.

Cait is procrastinating writing. Instead, she’s blogging, reading books by awesome Aussie authors, and tweeting about peanut butter.

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3 Comments

  1. I have to say, I love the ghosts of long-dead cookies. What kind of a person even thinks of that? It’s almost Lemony Snickety. Also, I like the advice of “when in doubt, use food.” I’ll have to keep that in mind. Good post, weirdo.

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