Details, A Reader Love/Hate Relationship


As a writer, I love story details. I enjoy figuring out the minute details of my world and the little things that make my characters tick. Even when it comes to research I go overboard because I want to know everything there is to know

As a reader, I adore details. I want to know everything there is to know about the characters I love. The world though? Not as much. I want to know the interesting bits, the bits that effect the characters and plot. Tell me the factoids that might make me pause, or will impress me, or that I need to know to understand your story. Beyond that? Please, leave me a little bit of mystery, even if I say otherwise.

My reader and writer selves used to have the same opinion about details–we wanted more, more, and more. As a reader, I was always left wanting, but I suppose that brought me back to the stories and authors I like. As a writer, I sometimes fizzle out with projects because I become too entrenched in the research and planning parts. Writer me has finally learned to not stop writing when this urge kicks in, instead I write a note directly in the story to look into whatever seems necessary to know at the time.

In any case, this post is supposed to be reader focused.

I’m 3/4 of the way through a book that I can’t seem to finish quickly. I’ve been reading it for what seems like ages and it is slow going. No, the book isn’t long. No, the book isn’t uninteresting. The issue is it’s too detailed. The world is fascinating and the characters are compelling, but the author spends so much time going into finite detail about every single little thing that I can’t make any headway. After reading three chapters in a row I’m tired. And I’m a person who can read a good book in one sitting.

I have no stamina because I get bored, plain and simple. Nothing is happening, by which I mean the plot isn’t moving forward, so I don’t feel the need to put in more time. The book is a general fiction novel that contains elements of magic, and I can tell this is a story written by someone who is not overly familiar with the fantasy genre.

It’s also apparent that the writer and editor(s) were entranced by the magic and the world which is why they’re described in so much detail. I’m glad they were excited, I was initially excited too, but after the halfway point the descriptions are slowing down the story. What’s worse, all of the story elements have been described to the point they’ve destroyed all elements of mystery the story had been working towards.

The author also gave the answer to two character elements that were the only sources of tension left in the novel. I’m annoyed, so it’s a concentrated effort to get the book done at this point. I am committed because it’s a book club read and I am curious to see how it all comes together in the end.

I’m glad I’ve read this novel at this point in my writing life because I do worry whether I’m giving enough detail or too much when I’m editing my work. This book will serve as a good example–over-explaining doesn’t do your readers any good, even if they think they want all the nitty gritty details, like I did at one point.

Remember the iceberg principle: Readers should only see the tip of the ice, not the majority below the surface.


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