I was wondering if you could give me some writing tips. I have a blog on WordPress where I write stories and poems. I’m not the best when it comes to giving details in stories, so I was wondering if you could help me out with that. I would really appreciate it
Great question, I’d be happy to help. Believe it or not, you’re not alone in this venture. Authors have struggled with how to provide detail for the longest time, while keeping the story interesting. There’s a bit of a disconnect between how to keep a story interesting so that your reader stays engaged, but not overloading them on details. Many an otherwise good novel has died on the alter of TOO MUCH FREAKEN DETAIL!
There is also the idea that the reader should be free to draw their own conclusions on what a world looks like based on a limited amount of information provided. It’s a good philosophy, but it’s one that puts extra burden on the writer to determine how much detail is just the right amount. With an audience that has a notoriously shrinking attention span, getting this right is absolutely crucial.
The best way to combat this is by using metaphor and comparison. Let me give you an example…
Here’s a fairly generic description of a scene from a story I was working on a while back:
“The night was cold. It must have been easily less than thirty degrees. The wind blew hard against Mike’s back, causing him to go numb. Not helping matters was how dark it was. The street lamps couldn’t compensate for it, making it hard to see where he was going. The road was long, easily about two miles. He could easily tell that he had a long way to go.”
Believe it or not, this is actually really good description. It tells you exactly what’s going on, what the weather is like and how our character feels… but it’s not very interesting, is it? It’s almost robotic in its description, like it’s not intended to be interesting in any way. Now imagine a full book being like that…
Those are the types of stories that tend to get used to prop up furniture later on instead of holding a prominent space on ANYONE’s shelf.
So obviously we’re not going to get much out of that, are we? That’s not going to hold anyone’s attention… so let’s try adding comparison and a little metaphorical writing to it…
“The night was so cold that Mike was certain an Eskimo would have felt right at home. The wind felt like a sharp knife against his skin, causing him to go numb as he walked. The fact that it was so dark that he could not see where he was going didn’t help. The night loomed over him like a black veil that was so thick that even the dim yellow glow of the street lamps could barely shine through it. His journey was not going to end any time soon. The road appeared to stretch on forever, as though the path disappeared into the heavens on the horizon.”
Now which story are you more likely to want to continue reading, the first or second one? Chances are the second one held your attention longer, why? Because it let your mind get an idea of how cold it was, it let you feel the character’s pain instead of just throwing information at you. Even if it is a little bit longer than the bare bones description, this will keep a reader engaged a lot easier.
But Jim, how much is too much?
Well that’s struggle number 2. How much information is too much? Again, it’s in the details. Let’s take a look at a description of something from a story:
“The tapestry was blue, bright blue. John honestly couldn’t decide if it was royal blue or navy blue. There were several different shades of blue that fit into those two categories that it could have been either in the spectrum. It also had gold trim that was shiny and knitted together with little red lace. It must have been hand-sewn because the lace was so delicate, no machine could have done that. John started to wonder what that thread was made of.”
These are stories where you can easily skip over entire paragraphs without missing anything essential to the story and believe it or not, there are enough of these to fill the Library of Congress. So what could we honestly do away with here? Well unless the detailed description of the tapestry were somehow crucial to the story (which it rarely is), we can probably do away with most of that:
“The tapestry was blue, bright blue. John honestly couldn’t decide if it was royal blue or navy blue.
There were several different shades of blue that fit into those two categories that it could have been either in the spectrum. It also had gold trim that was shiny and knitted together with little red lace. It must have been hand-sewn because the lace was so delicate, no machine could have done that. John started to wonder what that thread was made of.“
Yeah, even that could be considered too much. Simply saying ‘blue tapestries adorned the walls’ would in most cases be sufficient
So MJ, I hope this helps. The use of metaphor and comparison writing will give the reader a lot more to think about than just a bland description.
Readers, what do you think? Do you have other advice you can offer MJ?
Let us know in the comments!
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I have been writing for several years, have multiple published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
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