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message 1: by Adam (new)

Adam Bolander | 36 comments I've been a fan of R.A. Salvatore for a little over a year now. I think what I love best about him is that he provides a very clear view of the world his books take place in without bogging the story down with an overabundance of details. It seems like many fantasy authors are so proud of the world they've created that they're willing to bring the plot itself to a screeching halt to provide the reader with needless history and backstory. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, I just prefer the stories I read to be fairly simple and fast paced. This is the reason I have such a hard time reading Tolkien's works. On the other hand, I've recently discovered Brandon Sanderson, and while he definitely loves to put lots of detail into his worlds, I was surprised to find that I can read his stories with no problems. What about you? What style do you prefer?


message 2: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Flynn I loved R.A Salvatore's series too. Just some good fantasy fun. Have you read Paul Kidd's White Plume Mountain series? Another fun fast paced ride.

I find that I don't mind detail as long as a book is character driven and the world is unique. I didn't think Tolkien was bogged down with details in the Hobbit and LoTR though. Now, I've never managed to wade through the Similrion (sp?).


message 3: by Adam (new)

Adam Bolander | 36 comments Side note: I've never met two people who were not absolute Tolkien nerds who spelled Silmarilion the same way... I probably didn't spell it right that time either :P


message 4: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Flynn Adam wrote: "Side note: I've never met two people who were not absolute Tolkien nerds who spelled Silmarilion the same way... I probably didn't spell it right that time either :P"

LOL, Adam! Yeah, that one gets me every time. :D


message 5: by Vardan (new)

Vardan Partamyan (vardanpartamyan) | 92 comments it's Silmarillion so you got it almost right :)

I think the inclusion of details is an important but tricky part of writing. For me as a writer, it is key to provide descriptions and details in a way that does not hinder the flow of the story but is instead interwoven with the story in a way that does not feel like a random infodump. The details and descriptions are indeed important parts of the world building and there are very few Tolkiens around who can pull it off. Although, I do have to confess that when I first started reading the Lord of the Rings around 17 years ago I was immediately turned off by the abundant pauses and descriptions. It was from the second try that I finished the first book and then it kind of soared for me with certain parts of the Two Towers and The Return of the King still holding a special place in my heart in terms of the excitement they induced. The real master in minimalist description world building is Ernest Hemingway and for the science fiction genre I would once again have to go with Alfred Bester for no particular reason but the fact that Stars My Destination is still one of my all time favorites.


message 6: by Jim (new)

Jim | 418 comments One thing I noticed about the writing of the late and lamented Jack Vance is that you can fool the reader into supplying or assuming detail. The trick seems to be to mention very small things, for example you might have a character use a phrase like "the engraving on the hilt was early Batan, or perhaps thirteenth aeon.
The sentence doesn't need explanation, early Batan (which without effort creates in the reader's mind late and even middle Batan) is never elaborated but you've somehow provided depth to the background. I apologise for the fact that my example isn't very good


message 7: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) Of course, one person's "too much detail" is another person's "beautiful descriptions". ;-)

In any case, I do love authors who can use a carefully chosen verb and/or perfect little metaphor to set a scene in one or two sentences. Of course, when they do it just right, I'll probably stop and spend as much time appreciating it as I would reading a longer, more banal descriptive paragraph or three.


message 8: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 147 comments I teach a SF writing workshop, and the analogy I use is chocolate chip ice cream. When you open a carton of chocolate chip ice cream, it is not good to find a block of chocolate on top of a tub of vanilla ice cream. The chocolate should be chopped up small and blended in, so you get a little bit with every bite of ice cream.
So and no otherwise should it be with the data dump. A big lump of stuff is bad. Chop it fine and mix it in.


message 9: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) I feel compelled to share one of my favorite Zelazny quotes here -- possibly one of his longest paragraphs -- which even though full of descriptions, they are cleverly intertwined with action as well as a bit of introspection, such that the apparent verbosity is never an issue for me. Instead, it's just a joy to read (IMHO, of course):

It was almost a mystical experience. I do not know how else to put it. My mind outran time as he neared, and it was as though I had an eternity to ponder the approach of this man who was my brother. His garments were filthy, his face blackened, the stump of his right arm raised, gesturing anywhere. The great beast that he rode was striped, black and red, with a wild red mane and tail. But it really was a horse, and its eyes rolled and there was foam at its mouth and its breathing was painful to hear. I saw then that he wore his blade slung across his back, for its haft protruded high above his right shoulder. Still slowing, eyes fixed upon me, he departed the road, bearing slightly toward my left, jerked the reins once and released them, keeping control of the horse with his knees. His left hand went up in a salute-like movement that passed above his head and seized the hilt of his weapon. It came free without a sound, describing a beautiful arc above him and coming to rest in a lethal position out from his left shoulder and slanting back, like a single wing of dull steel with a minuscule line of edge that gleamed like a filament of mirror. The picture he presented was burned into my mind with a kind of magnificence, a certain splendor that was strangely moving. The blade was a long, scythe like affair that I had seen him use before. Only then we had stood as allies against a mutual foe I had begun to believe unbeatable. Benedict had proved otherwise that night. Now that I saw it raised against me I was overwhelmed with a sense of my own mortality, which I had never experienced before in this fashion. It was as though a layer had been stripped from the world and I had a sudden, full understanding of death itself.

~ from The Guns of Avalon


message 10: by Paul (new)

Paul Spooner | 14 comments Jim's comment about 'assumed detail', mentioned in passing, is spot on. Tantalising glimpses of unexplained backstory / context do create (quite validly) the illusion of detailed explanation without having to hold up the action. These also spur the reader on in the hope that more info will be forthcoming. This is most useful in shorter books where momentum is a key factor. However, if you know you're settling in for a long campaign, e.g. Lord of The Rings or Stephen R Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, then I think you should probably expect a bit of meandering down side-roads for purposes of tapestry weaving - I guess it's about putting yourself in the right mindset for the book you're about to dive into?


message 11: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnahr) Adam wrote: "This is the reason I have such a hard time reading Tolkien's works. On the other hand, I've recently discovered Brandon Sanderson, and while he definitely loves to put lots of detail into his worlds, I was surprised to find that I can read his stories with no problems. ..."

I consider Lord of the Rings to be my all time favorite book but just today I finished Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson and loved it. I agree with Paul that it's about having the right mindset while reading the book. I like big, long descriptive books but not all the time. I also like shorter, more tightly plotted books too. Just depends on my mood.


message 12: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Flynn Vardan wrote: For me as a writer, it is key to provide descriptions and details in a way that does not hinder the flow of the story but is instead interwoven with the story in a way that does not feel like a random info dump"

I agree, Vardan. If it flows with the story then that's great. And really, even other genres have this issue. I've read some historical mystery fiction and remember that during a chase scene, the author stopped to explain the history of a brick building with a plaque on it.


message 13: by Kevis (last edited Jun 04, 2013 01:47PM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (kevishendrickson) | 120 comments I think many authors fall into the age-old trap of loving their creation too much and start trying to cram as much detail as they can into their stories. Others are trying too hard to mimic Tolkien in the false belief that you have to go on for pages at a time when describing their world when in actuality Tolkien wrote in such a way that he gave you just enough detail for you to fill in the blanks. Then there are the authors who don't bother to describe anything. But that's a subject for another day.


message 14: by Jim (new)

Jim | 418 comments Paul wrote: "However, if you know you're settling in for a long campaign, e.g. Lord of The Rings or Stephen R Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, then I think you should probably expect a bit of meandering down side-roads for purposes of tapestry weaving - I guess it's about putting yourself in the right mindset for the book you're about to dive into? ..."

At the risk of sounding like a mutual admiration society I think you're spot on with this. In the bigger, thicker book I think you might need more 'pacing'.
You can probably afford to take time, to slow things slightly and paint a picture of the world, (or even run characters into a short blind alley to give a feel for the world.)


message 15: by Brenda (last edited Jun 05, 2013 07:20AM) (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 147 comments You also have to keep in mind the era in which the work was written. Many older novels (LES MISERABLES, for instance) have long swathes of description; a whole chapter is dedicated to the sewers of Paris. Why? Because there was no photography, no Wikipedia, no YouTube. The only way the readers could ever know what the sewers of Paris looked like was for Victor Hugo to take the time and tell them in detail. Modern books can say "Paris," and the image pops into your mind.


message 16: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Flynn That's a really good point, Brenda! Though I could really have done without the pages and pages of Robert Jordan describing women's dresses in Wheel of Time.


message 17: by Kevis (last edited Jun 04, 2013 09:39PM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (kevishendrickson) | 120 comments I've always felt the same way as Brenda that the technology, or rather, the lack thereof, shaped the kind of books that were written before the advent of the camera. Even so, you really have to tip your hat to writers like Tolkien who could write about a world that only existed in his head without droning on and on about some meaningless scratch on a sword as other less careful writers sometimes do.


message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim | 418 comments Brenda wrote: "You also have to keep in mind the era in which the work was written. Many older novels (LES MISERABLES, for instance) have long swathes of description; a whole chapter is dedicated to the sewers of Paris. Why? Because there was no photography, no Wikipedia, no YouTube. The only way the readers could ever know what the sewers of Paris looked like was for Victor Hugo to take the time and tell them in detail. Modern books can say "Pairs," and the image pops into your mind. ..."

<< raises hand anxiously at back >>
Please miss, what image should pop into my mind?


message 19: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 147 comments Oh Jim, you naughty man. I fixed it. (I am up for eye surgery in 7 days, and so the typos proliferate.)

And Robert Jordan has no excuse at all; he had photography. Even if he could not say "a dress just like the one Angelina Jolie wore to the Oscars" there are ways.


message 20: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Flynn Brenda wrote: "Oh Jim, you naughty man. I fixed it. (I am up for eye surgery in 7 days, and so the typos proliferate.)

And Robert Jordan has no excuse at all; he had photography. Even if he could not say "a dres..."


But Brenda, it is imperative that the reader know exactly how many gold buttons and dragons was on Rand Al'Thor's fiery crimson tunic! ;)

Good luck with your eye surgery. Hope everything goes well for you.


message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim | 418 comments Brenda wrote: "Oh Jim, you naughty man. I fixed it. (I am up for eye surgery in 7 days, and so the typos proliferate.)
..."


Eye surgery? Best of luck, I'm going in for cataract surgery a week tomorrow


message 22: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Preedy | 3 comments I've never been a huge fan of paragraphs and paragraphs of descriptive text and deliberately shied away from that when writing my own fantasy book.

Unless it's plot related, it's not really necessary for the reader to know what furniture was in the room, what clothes the characters were wearing, what colour they were, what hairstyle the character had etc.

As an author, you just need to paint a broad canvas and let the reader's own imagination flesh out the details. I hardly describe the physical appearance of my characters at all as it's simply not relevant. I want the reader to create their own interpretation of the character without feeling they have to conform to certain attributes that I've defined.

As I have a lot of action in my book, I tended to favour sensory descriptive imagery - the sweat trickling down their backs, the throb of blood pumping through their veins, the beat of their heart ringing in their ears, the feel of the sword hilt pressing against their flesh etc etc

It's descriptive detail like that that I feel serves the best purpose, not reams and reams of text about what a room looked like.


message 23: by Rinelle (new)

Rinelle Grey (rinellegrey) | 8 comments I had my first complaint today for not including enough description. I think one in 20 odd isn't bad. I include description when its relevant to the story, but never more than a line or two at a time. I'm not big on it myself, and will usually skip it if its long. Always a hard one to call though.


message 24: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 147 comments It is unlikely you will get the chance, but if you do read BONELAND by Alan Garner. It is the third in a series that includes MOON OF GOMRATH and WEIRDSTONE OF BRIDINGAMEN. (I had to buy a British edition at a SF convention. It has not been picked up by an American publisher.)
Garner made an artistic decision to leave it all out. There is very little description indeed; and word is he made pass after pass pruning yet more out. It is positively skeletal, and kind of hard to figure out. Nevertheless, it's awesome.


message 25: by Vardan (new)

Vardan Partamyan (vardanpartamyan) | 92 comments There is a certain beauty to the stripped down text with nothing at all hiding the raw simplicity of what is going on. I think it takes considerable talent to be able to tell a story without a veil and be able to engage the readers.


message 26: by Ramsey (new)

Ramsey Isler (ramsey_isler) | 2 comments I definitely agree that less is more when it comes to descriptions. We all love depth in our fantastical worlds, but when it's done at the cost of a narrative that flows well it harms more than helps. In my own books, I have a general guideline to keep the initial description of a place or thing down to one paragraph. If more is needed, I spread it out by sprinkling a few details here and there during the general narrative.


message 27: by Ken (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 165 comments I prefer balance. Good description enriches the setting and adds to the realism of the story, adding impact to character actions and urgency to the plot.

However, too much description is like too much candy. You start to feel sick, you start to regret it, and lose interest. Too much description turns the book into a travelogue, or into a textualized photograph. Why not just make it a picture book and save the reader time? It can also take away from the realism in another way. No character running for their life through the streets of Istanbul would take 15 pages to describe the various stalls and markets as they flew past in a blur. It's not realistic, and you as the reader picture the narrator stopping their dead-run to stand still and play travel guide for you for those 15 pages. Like jumping right out of character.

Therefore, balance is key. Just enough description to keep the world real, without hindering the plot's progress. Speaking at the superficial level. There should always be something happening beneath, and there it's often the case that the less description the better it is. A hint here, a carefully chosen word there. No more. Let the reader decide, have confidence they're intelligent.


message 28: by Billy (new)

Billy Wong | 8 comments I definitely prefer less description and more dialogue/action, and it's part of (but not wholly) why I prefer the 'heroic' fantasy style over 'epic'.


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