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.

–Pablo Picasso

I learned no detail was too small. It was all about the details.

–Brad Grey

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.

–Benny Goodman

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!


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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here:
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27 thoughts on “THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS–by Cheryl Pierson”

  1. Good morning. I love when settings are detailed so you get the feel of the land or town in which the book is set in. I don’t care for much descriptive sex scenes, I have an imagination, but I did read a book last year where some explicit sex description was exploited and the characters are some of my most cherished of all time, but the author to me made their beautuful love making, which she has so carefully described in her former books, well she made it dirty in this one and I felt disrespectful. It totally broke my heart. Sometimes less is more.

    • Tonya, yes, I know what you mean about the love scenes. You know when I write love scenes, I really try to talk more about the emotions than the physical part of it. Everyone knows how it’s accomplished, but the emotions…the dialogue…the feeling and the those descriptions and details are what makes a love scene special, in my opinion.

  2. I have to say for me,Diana Gabaldon,Nora Roberts/ JD Robb as well as Johnathon Kellerman give all the details to bring me right into the story. Love their writing.

  3. There are some books that do get caught up in too many words. I like to be able to visualize what is going on.

    • Debra, I think so, too, sometimes. Depends on the story and what the details are about, but my confession about some stories…I don’t really care what they’re eating at the formal dinner. I don’t. Yet, I do understand, you can’t just write, “They sat down and had dinner.” It’s a quandary. LOL

  4. I love tons of details in my books. I want to be able to picture every little detail like I’m watching a movie. A great example of an author that goes into wonderful detail is Kari Lynn Dell. Her description into every little move in a rodeo event, working with cattle, landscape and terrain just amazes me! I grew up around pasture cattle, feedlots and rodeos and I can visualize every little detail she puts into her books. It’s very obvious she has lived the life or she couldn’t go into such explicit detail!

    • Yes, and it’s good when an author can make it so clear in details that even people who haven’t ever done it or seen it can understand what’s taking place or what something looks like.

  5. I have quite a few favorite authors that give the right amount of details. It’s important to be able to see the scenes through the words. But, there have been some books that I have read where I felt a lot of the details were just thrown in to add words to the story.

    • Janine, I do not like that where the details just go on and on and really don’t have anything to do with the story. I want to know details, too, but like I mentioned about the dinner courses…I don’t care about a lot of that and it takes up pages and pages. But “back in the day” that was the way to write, and publishers seemed to really want that. I’m so glad that things have changed and authors are more at liberty to write the details that matter, more than just “page filler” like some of the earlier books had in them.

    • Caryl, I agree. I read a LOT of stories in all genres and I think overall that writers have become more able to have the freedom to express their styles of writing rather than being to tied to what someone else expects of them.

  6. I do kind of lose interest if there are pages of descriptions and not action or dialogue in between to keep the story gong. I love me some place setting and character descriptions – just not 10 pages worth before anyone speaks! I think it brings the story to life, but I am also a fan of action and dialogue. There have been books that went on too long and I lost interest. You have a point though, that the author put words together for a reason – the book has a point and you might miss something important by skimming.

    • Susan, any more, action has to happen in the beginning of a story–some kind of action. Readers are just not going to be patiently reading through pages and pages, like you say, of descriptions and so on with no action taking place. There are so many books in the world and so little time, that if a book doesn’t grab a reader’s attention from the beginning in some way, it’s liable to just be laid down and never picked back up again.

    • Denise, I’m the same way–my reading “for pleasure” time is so limited I have to be really careful about who I read, and I do have some faves in several genres. LOL Like you, I savor every word, and every minute of the time I get to just read for fun.

  7. I want you to know, Cheryl, that I read every word too. I never skim. To me, a book is worth reading or it’s not.

    Being retired is great because you’re out of the rat race and don’t feel the need to rush to the end. At least I don’t.

    Two classic writers I like for period detail are Charles Dickens (for the city) and Thomas Hardy (for the country).. I agree with you that Diana Gabaldon’s books are a treasure trove of details that I do indeed enjoy. As for just the right balance of detail for a story, I just love Linda Broday and Jo Goodman.

    • Eliza, I agree–either it’s worth it, or just put it down and find something else that’s more your style, right? Yes, being retired means a lot more time to finally get to do what you love to do, and I know reading is one of those things! You know, the only reason I rush to the end is because I’m excited to see what’s going to happen there! LOL And then I go back and read it more slowly, so I don’t miss a thing.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Eliza!

  8. Sharon Sala her books set in Blessing Georgia, you can relate to them because what they are going through one of the reads might be going through something similar.

  9. I am one who loves detail. I have had a live imagination since I was a child. I would tell my siblings bedtime stories, usually about my previous night’s adventures with Peter Pan. Oh, how I wanted to fly. Back then, as you stated, we weren’t bombarded with with as much visual stimulation. Give me a description and let me fill in the blanks. It is one reason I like covers that don’t show the faces of the characters. I like to create them in my mind out of the author’s description. The saying “No one ever reads the same book” is so true. We all bring our experiences and personalities to the book and fill in the blanks from those. I have read historical fiction for years (since high school back in the Dark Ages) and rely on the details to show me what the world was like for the people of that time period. I have read some historicals that contain so little detail that you could easily drop the plot and characters into a contemporary setting and nothing would change. I appreciate authors that do good research to assure what they include in their books is accurate. I read for enjoyment, but I also read to learn. No matter what the setting or type of story, I want to come away having at least one thing I didn’t know before. Preferably, not that I didn’t like the author or story.
    Sorry, long winded as usual. Thanks for making me think. The list of authors that qualify for detail is a long one. All the authors that are Fillies here do a good job with the details. Two that I can think of quickly are B. J. Daniels and Jennifer Blake. With both, I have been to the settings of some of their books and know they have been there. In several books I knew right where they were standing because I had been there. Even with Blake’s historicals, I looked around New Orleans and found the places she referred to, men 150+ years later.

    • Patricia that is so awesome–you’ve done a lot of traveling in your lifetime, so I’m sure there are a good many settings that you know a lot about. Louis L’Amour used to say that if he wrote about a certain creek or mountain, it was THERE. (I’m paraphrasing here.) But anyhow, he wrote about settings that he’d been to and seen and knew well.

      Yes, we all bring our own personalities to what we’re reading and that makes each story a little different for each reader. Isn’t it odd to think about how some phrases or nuances can mean different things to different people? And maybe that hasn’t even occurred to the author–he/she may have thought it ONLY means this one thing, and that’s how it has to be taken by the reader. But that’s not always true.

      I am working on a blog about details and descriptions of characters. It’s fascinating to me that character descriptions and what readers care about are different for different genres. A simple concept, but just fascinating. LOL

      Like you, I love to learn something — at least ONE THING — from each book I read–even if it’s only a word or phrase that I didn’t know before.

      I always love to read your comments, my friend. Thanks for stopping by!

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