Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Much Is Too Much?

I'm reading a book (well, duh).  It's m/m romance.  The writing is good - clever, correct grammar, plot builds well, etc.  But it has a lot of detail (to me anyway).  The step-by-step kind while one guy teaches the other a new skill.  No, it's not a sexual skill.  I find the details mildly interesting but not enough to pay complete attention to them, so I sort of skim.  This happens from time to time in my reading. Recently it was a little too much military life.

I'm also writing a book.  (Not the paranormal I've mentioned).  And now I'm paranoid.  Am I writing too much detail, too much about getting from here to there, etc?

Val recently (okay, like ten days ago) posted about what unkowns you like in your fiction, and it's possible that someone else followed that up with more deep thoughts, so that's what got me started on this path.

So how much is too much detail in a book?  Are there limits to what you want to know?


  1. I shouldn't worry about this too much if I were you, Wren, as this kind of thing is entirely subjective. I've read books with lots of detail which I've found absolutely fascinating and has greatly enhanced my reading pleasure of the book.

    Then I've read a different book with lots of detail about a topic which I've found (to steal a phrase from Kris) as boring as bat poo and I've found myself skimming over those bits in order to get back to the action/meat of the story.

    Both times I've read reviews where people have had the opposite view to me (ie what I found interesting, they found dull, and vice versa) so my best advice would be to stick to what interests you, put as much detail in as you are happy with and you'll find that some readers will be right there with you and some will do the skimming thing.

  2. I also think it varies from reader to reader. Some people want lots of detail and eat it up; other people could care less. My novella, "Our One and Only" -- two reviewers said it would have benefited from some "judicious cuts" while other reviewers loved every word. So...

    I think detail becomes too much when it is obvious that it is padding--just trying to fill up the pages and not advancing the story at all.


  3. I agree with Jen, it depends what you are writing about. If it's how to reassemble a car engine *yawn*, if it's something that interests me I'll read it avidly. So there is no way of knowing if you put too much until I read it. Makes it a bitch for authors. :-P

    I'll say that as I piddle around writing stuff everything I read on-line makes me paranoid. If someone says "I hate semi-colons" I am suddenly paranoid I used to many. LOL But you can't make every reader happy, so do what feels right and it will be fine.

  4. I wouldn't worry about it, Wren. Write it the way you want to write it, then send it to your beta readers and/or editor and get some input then.

  5. Jen - thanks for the reassurance. I suppose it really is a matter of taste. (I'm sure there is someone, somewhere, who finds bat poo interesting!)

    Leslie - You're right about the padding, I think. Although one person's padding may be another one's fascination.

    Tam - I fall into the paranoia trap, too. I've read criticisms about the food in books, and characters that never eat. So now I'm like, hmmm, they have to have meals and eat them and go to the bathroom and brush their teeth and...

    Chris - "write it the way you want to write it" - very good advice! :)

  6. Hi, Wren! Thanks for the link and mention. I'd have to echo what the others are saying: just get the detail in there to whatever level you'd like and concentrate on finishing the story right now. You don't want anything to slow down the momentum there. Once you're finished with that first draft, then your beta readers/editor can give you feedback on whether you need more or less detail.

    And what about that paranormal? Are we still going to get to read that in the near future?

  7. Hi Val, Thanks for your advice. The paranormal is still cooking. I'm hung up because I want it to be perfect, which of course it will never be, and so I have to get over that stumbling block. But I will do it. Promise :)

  8. Oh, totally understand about the worrying thing. But just write the book the way you want to write it. If you read it and like it, then chances are it's fine and dandy. As most everyone else has said, detail is subjective and you can't please everyone (...though it would be wonderful if we could, just as it would be wonderful if the first drafts were perfect, but the frickin' things never seem to want to cooperate. lol).

  9. Yep, depends entirely on the subject and the reader.

    One thing that did irk me lately was in a highly regarded m/m novel. I think of it as "footstep tracing."

    He went to the bedroom and pulled off his jacket and tie. After hanging them carefully in the closet, he trudged downstairs to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He peered inside for a moment then grabbed a can of V-8 and ambled to the couch. He sat down, rested his feet on the coffee table, and thought about Irving. Suddenly he had to go to the bathroom real bad, because a Tootsie Roll was knocking, so he went to the bathroom. He didn't have to lower the toilet seat, though.

    And on an on. (That wasn't a direct quote, by the way. I made it all up.) The footstep-tracing got so "he did this and then he did that" tedious, I had to shut down the file and do something else. Like amble to the refrigerator and grab a beer. :-)

  10. (Pssst. Ya wanna know why he didn't have to lower the toilet seat? Sorry, that's in the second chapter.)

  11. Oh KZ. *snort*

    I'll try to keep the footstep tracing to a minimum, then :)

  12. I figured the seat was already down. From someone who used it previously. Or maybe he makes his deposits standing up.

  13. You'll have to buy the book. :-)


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