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How Much is Too Much?

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Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:16 pm
yllufituaebroken says...

How do you know how much detail to add to your writing? I'm mostly concerned with writing that takes place an a very peculiar setting. If I have a scene that takes place in some mystical potion shop and there are colored chemicals everywhere and strange creatures running around, how do I explain this briefly so that it is clear to the reader without being sophomoric? Right now, I'm working on a steampunk for school and I am having difficulty deciding what I should and shouldn't explain/describe. I don't want to bore the reader with endless details but I don't want to assume they know what the scene looks like either. I have a very particular idea in my head and I'm just having trouble getting it down on paper so that the reader may see it also.
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Sat Dec 17, 2011 3:00 pm
Rosendorn says...

People can enjoy near-endless amounts of description just as much as they enjoy minimal description.

The key is to make the description interesting. Don't just rattle off a list of what the setting looks like, but instead describe everything the character is paying attention to, as they move around the shop. Make the setting alive instead of just a list of words. You also don't have to be verbose; by placing a few key details in descriptions can convey everything you need about a setting. This is a piece that has a good chunk of description but still has conversation of detail, with the story being rather short.

Hope this helps!
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Mon Dec 19, 2011 4:15 am
Kale says...

The two most important things to keep in mind are relevance and activeness. Are the details absolutely necessary to include? And if so, are they somehow directly tied to an action (or two)?

The more active your descriptions ("The wind blew the snow" rather than "The snow was blown by the wind"), generally the more interesting they are to read. In addition, the more immediately relevant the details, the more closely they tie into the actions of the characters and/or setting, the more likely your reader will want to read more description.

For example, in the story Rosey linked, the fact that it's winter plays an important part. Because it is winter, it is cold, so everyone is wearing furs, and it is also dark, because the lighting is poor, while in the distance, a lone wolf is hungrily howling. These three elements combined make for a rather effective atmosphere for Lady Wolfskin's tale, which she takes advantage of.

Once you figure out which details are absolutely necessary, then you can focus on tying them together in interesting ways so that the setting becomes as important to the story as the characters' actions and dialogue.
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