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Writing and Publishing > A little less detail?

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message 1: by Paul (last edited Sep 15, 2008 08:27AM) (new)

Paul | 1 comments Hello everyone. My name is Paul, and I am new to both Goodreads and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors groups.

My question is this...In a time filled with detail laden epics(The Wheel of Time series comes to mind), is there a place for stories like the Chronicles of Narnia anymore?

First off, let me start by saying I love 700+ pages epics. I just don't like to write them. I think C.S. Lewis was unique in that he did not rely on using minute detail, or extensive character building to make his stories great. He simply told a good story, allowing the reader to fill in the details with his/her imagination.

I went in to writing my novel, The Thieves of Whitehall, with that mentality. I began writing for myself and was pleasantly surprised when others raved about my story. That lead me to a commercial line of thinking.

How would my book appeal to the masses? When I looked the books out there I had read, I found them all to be much longer and full of of the smallest details.

Are there other authors who sell on a commercial scale who write shorter length stories anymore, or am I writing the wrong kind of story?

message 2: by Keelin (new)

Keelin in first person i would say that more detail should be spent on characters thoughts but in third person more should be used on appearances

it all depends on the point of view the book is being written in

personly i prefer to read books from the first person but im finding my book easier to write from the third person as i think it gives the reader more of the perspective of whats going on

there is also that idea that you dont give away too much detail about the main characters till about halfway threw the series or near the end of the book

but thats just my opinion whatever thats worth

message 3: by David (new)

David Korinetz A few years ago I fell asleep while reading a novel where the author devoted a whole chapter to the main character pounding a piece of steel into a sword. It was well written, but not interesting enough to keep me reading.

Since my goal is to entertain, the method I chose to write my first novel, FireDrakes, was to make each chapter a story, complete with a beginning a middle and an end. I set a target of ten pages per chapter but let the story set the actual length. The finished chapters in FireDrakes range from 4 to 13 pages. When editing, if I found prose that wasn't moving the story along I nuked it.

message 4: by Mike (last edited Sep 16, 2008 01:41PM) (new)

Mike (mikerm) | 20 comments I agree, Paul, there is definitely such a thing as too much detail, and there is definitely a place for shorter books - for adults as well. I look at some of those thick multi-volume epics and think, "JAFPB - Just another fantasy phone book. Thick, boring, and full of names."

I've had the opposite criticism of my own writing - my critique group told me I needed to bulk City of Masks out a bit, that it was all good stuff but it was packed too tightly together. It needed more lettuce in the sandwich. Even after I took their advice, it still came out as quite a short book. But I marketed it as "a swashbuckling adventure", which creates an expectation that the story will keep moving along.

I suppose in the end it comes down to readers' and writers' taste.

message 5: by Leslie Ann (new)

Leslie Ann (leslieann) | 48 comments I tend to like a lot of details, but that's just me. However, I don't like a lot of superfluous details--for instance, I do want to know what all the main characters look like, but I don't especially care about secondary ones; just a thumbnail sketch will do.

David, that book with the chapter about sword-forging actually may have held my attention if the author was writing a treatise on swordmaking. I tend to dig stuff like that.

message 6: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 97 comments I did the same thing when I started writing Unbinding the Stone. It was intended for me, and I had no desire to get that detailed. I don't read descriptive prose and I sure didn't want to write it. My focus has always been on the characters, and the description was what the world looked like to them, in their own terms. Who needs lots of description when the characters are just going to come along and muck it all up anyway? Either that or it's filler better suited for an appendix, like many of the pages in an Honor Harrington novel.

message 7: by Keelin (new)

Keelin i agree with A.L but then i just have a short attention span so that could be my fault

as i said before its all about giving the reader all the information that they need at that moment in time but not too much or else theyll put it down for something else

i sholud know ive been practiclly pulling my hair out over my friends being so picky and choosy about what they want from a book

oh by the way has anyone got any good ideas for a place name as ive drawn a blank in my book ??????

message 8: by Leslie Ann (new)

Leslie Ann (leslieann) | 48 comments For my novel 'Griffin's Daughter' and its sequels, I got out a map of Japan and picked place names that sounded cool, then I changed the spellings or combined two names to make a new one. You can try this with a map of any country you choose.

message 9: by Tim (last edited Sep 17, 2008 02:39PM) (new)

Tim | 9 comments I've had one novel published - fantasy novel "Anarya's Secret" (see - and am working on another at present. Anarya's Secret is in third person; the new one is in first person.

I tend to echo #2 that description is especially important in third person, but in both books, I have had to work hard to make sure that I include enough physical description, especially of characters. When I'm writing a first draft, I tend to have the characters' personalities in mind rather than their appearances, and I've had to go back and insert descriptions of them at appropriate places when redrafting. (Not all at once, of course - a bit here and a bit there.)

For my new book, I have made a chart of what people look like and where in the manuscript I have described this - it feels a bit mechanical, but I hope that, this time, I won't have to go back and "paste in" those descriptions during later drafts.

message 10: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte (herdmom) As a reader (but not a writer) of fantasy books, I appreciate details that are pertinent to the story; I don't appreciate details that are nothing more than filler. Occasionally I will read something that is described in detail, then the story moves on, and I am left thinking, "What did that have to do with anything?" I don't think the reader necessarily needs to "see" everything the characters see; only what helps to move the story along or is somehow important.

I also appreciate details that make me feel like I am there, experiencing things right along with the characters, rather than feeling like I am reading about what the characters are experiencing.

message 11: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 97 comments You might like my style then. I describe what the character sees, what is important to him, rather than what is there. If the character doesn't care that the flowers outside his door are blue with red leaves, why waste the time to mention it? A side effect is that often the same thing looks different depending on which character is looking at it.

message 12: by Rosalind M (new)

Rosalind M | 2 comments For me, it greatly depends upon the point of view of the story being told. If it's being told by an all-seeing narrator, I expect there to be more detail included to build the scene (but only as will be pertinent to the mood or plot of the storyline). If it's being told by one character in particular and he's not interested in, say, the nearby spice market, then I don't need to hear about the scent of different spices in the air or the voices of the spice hawkers, except, perhaps, a passing mention or sneeze.

And another good tip for place names is to determine what existing country resembles (or once resembled) the culture you're creating and look at a map or listing of some of the more obscure present/ancient names of cities in that country. Even if you don't use an exact name, you can make some interesting variations on the ones you find.

message 13: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 97 comments I don't write in third person omniscient, because then I'd have to write descriptions! I invented my style out of a desire not to do that. One person who judged my work at a contest described it as third person limited that reads like first person. And your tip for names is what I usually do, mostly for people and animal names, though, not places. I figure if I want to get people to believe that these are actual names they have to sound like names. No one is going to call a common animal something that has 3-4 syllables.

message 14: by GW (new)

GW Pickle (gwpickle) | 22 comments Marc
I got a couple of things I'd like to say here.
Get a copy of "Writer's Digest" source book called "Building Believable characters" by Marc McCutcheon. It'll help you with descriptions and also with names. It has 20+ pages of given & surnames from around the world. IMHO this is one of the must have books for a writer to have and use. I keep it by my computer & use it when I write.
This is more important in SF and fantasy than other genres, and that is to make the reader believe that what your writing is real (suspention of belief). Star Trek & Star Wars is a good example of that. IMO, the more odd sounding names you give characters, places, and objects (except in comedy) the harder it is for the reader to accept. Example:
In my book "SENTI", I call a hand gun not just an energy weapon, but a Glok or a Bretta 9mm energy weapon. In one of my WIP, (a SF comedy) I use a naming system for my aliens. First name is part of their race and the last is a name that has some meaning on Earth. (nothing to really show faimly membership). The leader of the alien group is a Genera and his name is Gen Singh, an Accurian pilot named Ac Turnal, or a female Feline crew member named Fel Ony. To us earthlings, the names are funny because of the Earth meanings. to the aliens it isn't funny because it is just a name. For my other books, I use mostly real names. Names from other countries work just fine, in most cases. Example:
Would you know that Theron Arneau is a french male, that Petra Danziger is a German female, or Panagiotis Papagiannopoulosis a Greek male (Panagiota would be the female version of the first name). FYI, these names came from the book I mentioned earlier. Another source for names would be a baby name book or the ever popular phone book, although I'd be careful about using the exact name from a phone book.
Now back to what I started talking about. I feel that the more things you put into your story, that are simular or close to what people already know & accept as real the easier it is for them to accept & like what you've written. If you put things too far out of their comfort zone they'll not like or buy your book.
G W Pickle

message 15: by Mike (new)

Mike (mikerm) | 20 comments We're straying a bit here, but some more name resources:

and Kate Monk's Onomastikon (developed for roleplaying games, but equally applicable to fiction where you need a genuine historical or foreign name):

message 16: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Hair | 26 comments I believe that detail should be used more to set mood than give feature-by-feature plays. What feeling does the woman give? If you describe her as dark and imposing, with a few minor details, and then flesh out her dialogue, it paints the same picture than if you were to describe EVERYTHING. I really enjoy deep fantasy, but I also enjoy a quick swift read. I don't think we should bash Robert Jordan, because his writing is truly amazing and unique. I don't think we should bash "short" writers either, like H.G. Wells. His novels were all quick and to the point. Develop your own style, and as you settle into it, you'll get better. Just keep writing, I suppose.

message 17: by Tim (new)

Tim (dallinar92) | 7 comments I have to agree with Kristen on this one. I love Robert Jordan, but I will also be the first to say his book are a little long. Even though they may be long they are filled with detail, you can see it actually happen. I do love short books so long as the story is well developed. I just think that it's up to whoever is writing it how they use description.

message 18: by Leslie Ann (last edited Sep 22, 2008 04:04PM) (new)

Leslie Ann (leslieann) | 48 comments Well said, Gary!

Griffin's Daughter (Griffin's Daughter Trilogy) by Leslie Ann Moore

message 19: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 97 comments Quite right. BY writing from the character's POV I can talk about what matters and ignore what doesn't. I wonder how many people actually visualize the characters from the author's descriptions.

message 20: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte (herdmom) I will echo...well said, Gary! As a reader, if a lot of attention is being paid to something, a part of my brain is cataloging it as being somehow important to the story. If it turns out not to be important, than it is exactly what Gary said - clutter. Clutter can be frustrating to a reader.

To Marc, I would say that EVERY reader visualizes the characters from the author's descriptions. That is part of the magic of reading...being able to visualize what is happening; to "be" there. Of course, if you're wondering how many people actually visualize the characters the same way as the author does, then I would say that different people visualize things differently, and differences of opinion may arise. But I don't think that matters.

message 21: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 97 comments I rarely visualize any character, and usually skip most descriptive prose. My concern is what a character says and does, not what they look like. In my own writing, I don't do much description of characters, mainly because the story is told from someone's point of view and they don't spend much time thinking about their own looks. What description I have is what a character looks like to whoever is front and center, usually but not always the main character, Tarkas.

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