How much is too much when it comes to description in your novel?
I am a fantasy author, my debut series features ancient Greek myths and I have embellished on these tales, characters and settings and created a world for them that mixes together established legends and my own invention.
Fantasy authors will be no stranger to world building, there’s plenty of exposition and detail on history, creatures and landscapes, but how do you find the balance between significant and insignificant?
When building a world that enables readers to share in your vision, are even the insignificant details significant, or is less really more?
I have read some fantasy novels that really go into the details, so far as to inform me that Jason is 34 years old, but sometimes acts like he’s 12, has dark brown, wavy hair, one green eye and one brown, but they both look green in direct sunlight, he’s 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighs around 14 stone, with well defined muscles, but never looks intimidating, he has never smoked but enjoys the occassional drink. On Sundays he eats a big breakfast of bacon, not too crispy, scrambled eggs, but cooked until browning- he hates the runny kind as they remind him of the time he vomited up his midnight fry up after his best friend’s bachellor party.
I think you get the idea.
Is any of this information relevant? Is all of it relevant?
Perhaps it depends on the type of story you’re writing.
In a fantasy story, from my point of view, I feel that building the world by describing the places and filling in the history is more important than describing the characters, especially if your main characters are human, we’ve all met one of those. If you’ve invented a new race of creatures that no one has ever heard of before, then no doubt any nugget of information is welcome, then again if you’re informing your reader of the bowel movements of the Grub and how the Inklings have a penchant for eating spiced nibbet flies on their ploppage, I’m still on the fence as to whether or not these inclusions make your story better, they certainly make it longer.
However, sometimes the seemingly useless facts can have significance down the line, especially if it turns out the Inkling King is poisoned by eating a bowl of ploppage laced with the very rare and toxic dunder fly, which is very similar in size and appearance to the harmless and delicious nibbet.
But perhaps I am wrong and must include more descriptions within my writing. But as it stands I tend to shy away from describing the way my human characters look to a great extent. When I get a chance to sit down with a good book and read, I always end up casting the roles in my head with whichever actor I think would do well in the movie version anyway, so the author’s in depth descriptions are always lost on me. Sorry about that.
However this doesn’t mean I am not invested in the characters, as for me, it is their deeds and doings (and I don’t mean bowel movements) which grab my attention, not the colour of their hair, the size of their feet or the fact that they always wear two pairs of socks.
What do you think?
As a fellow writer or as a reader, do you enjoy lengthy descriptions? Is context key for significance? Do you need descriptions to help build the images in your mind’s eye? Do you wish there were less descriptions in the books you read?