There’s an old saying that “the devil’s in the details” that’s true in many circumstances in life, but I think it’s especially true in all forms of art.
Of course, it’s obvious to us in visual art—paintings, drawings, photography—and tactile art such as a beautiful quilt or piece of pottery, or a woven basket.Hexagon Quilt–selling for over $6000! But look at the work and the detail that went into this “work of art”!
But what about books? Are you a reader who loves lots of descriptive details? Or do those bog you down and leave you frustrated and impatient?
I have to admit, as I’ve gotten older, there are many kinds of stories that I feel could do with less detail in some areas. A lot of my “changes” come from looking at the way details and descriptions are presented more closely when I read. I’ve evolved into this kind of reader.
As a younger reader, I needed those details to help me create images in my mind. The descriptions were beautiful to me because I knew less of the world, and everything I read was a learning experience! Have you ever thought about it like that?
When I was a YA reader, whether reading sci-fi books (during the flying saucer craze) or historical fiction, I needed those descriptions and details to feed my hunger for learning about—well, everything!I loved this series by John Christopher–read it when I was about 12 or 13, and it stayed with me all through the years so that when my own kids were young, I went searching and found it for them! The descriptions of the aliens that were determined to take over earth, the bravery of the young people that fought against them, and wondering what in the world was going to happen kept me reading far into the night!
“Back in the day” I think authors engaged readers with a different type of writing style, too. Ours had not yet become a world of technology such as it is now. Life “took longer”—and happened at a much more unhurried pace. It was important for writers to create pictures in the readers’ minds—because there was no way to already have a pre-conceived idea of the things the author was trying to describe.
Here’s what I mean: In today’s world, we are inundated with images of all kinds, from instant pictures on our phones that we take ourselves, to movies, to ads on television, to video on Youtube. And so much more—this is just the tip of the iceberg.
One of my very favorite paintings by the very fabulous Jack Sorenson. This one is called “Horse With Christmas Spirit”–love the “details” in this one!
Can you see how this de-values art? When a beautiful picture can be photoshopped together in minutes and seen by millions, or even mass produced in ways that hadn’t been thought of fifty years ago, the artist who painstakingly delivers every brush stroke “the old-fashioned way” can be under-appreciated in a hurry!
Some writers suffer this same twist of fate in a different way. Because our lives are so rushed, and our society has been geared toward “quick reads” we’ve lost the pleasure of savoring those descriptions of the setting, the characters, even the emotions of the “players” in the books we read. It seems that finishing a book is more important than, as we once did, lingering over certain passages and re-reading them for the sheer joy of the way the words came together, the image they created for our hungry minds—and souls.
My confession—and you may all think this is weird—I do not ever skim. Even when I don’t feel the need for the minutiae that may be included, I read every word. What if I miss something? Deep down, I believe the author must have thought it important or he/she wouldn’t have included it!
What’s your pet peeve? Too much description? Not enough? More description needed of the characters? Or do you want some things left to your own imagination?
One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite – that particular peach is but a detail.
I learned no detail was too small. It was all about the details.
Sometimes when you start losing detail, whether it’s in music or in life, something as small as failing to be polite, you start to lose substance.
Do you remember a book you’ve read that you thought was too detailed? IS there such a thing? I think many of the authors from the earlier days wrote in that style—it was just how it was done—and there was no mass media to show instant pictures, so there was even so much more to learn through reading.
As one who wrote very descriptive passages, James Fenimore Cooper comes to mind, but Diana Gabaldon’s books are full of wonderful descriptions of the landscape, the characters, and so on, and that skill she displays for description makes her stories and characters come to life!
For modern-day books that show a complete mastery of adding wonderful detail and pulling you into the story, there is no better author than Kathleen Eagle. I’ve never read a story by her that I didn’t love and one of the main reasons is the adept talent she has for adding the smallest details as the story moves along and drawing the reader right into each and every scene, as if you are truly there with her characters, experiencing their pain, loss, worry, and love.
Do you have a favorite author who gives just the right amount of description? More about this next time on CHARACTER descriptions–I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this subject!