The Balance between Detail and Imagination.

Page 1 of 6 123456 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 54

Thread: The Balance between Detail and Imagination.

  1. #1

    Question The Balance between Detail and Imagination.

    This seems to be something that I still have trouble with sometimes. I always want the reader to let their own imagination get rolling but sometimes I'm not sure how detailed I should have the scene be.

    For example -- if someone's sitting in a room, of course you should explain why he's in the room and what the room looks like at first glance, but you don't want a ten page written tour of the room talking about how many drapes the windows have and what kind of stain is on the coffee table.

    So what I want to know is how you balance the scale between detailing a scene and letting the reader paint the picture for themselves.

  2. #2
    I think I've learned to strike the balance by osmosis -- from years of reading. And with practice. It's not something I think about and I couldn't tell you how to do it in general terms if my life depended on it. I think it's something you have to learn by doing. There are no formulas.

  3. #3
    In my opinion, the first thing to remember is, the reader will always paint the picture for themselves. Once you understand that, you can get past trying to make the reader see exactly what you see in your head, and start making them get the mood, or impression you want to create. If the setting is important to the scene, then use words and descriptions which convey that importance. Do you want the setting to be cold and sterile because that's the nature of the character in it? Write about the flat, blue-white lighting, and surfaces as smooth as wet ice. Carefully chosen words, and snap-shot-like images can create an illusion of much greater detail.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel

    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content

  4. #4
    Each character needs a touchstone: a defining detail that the reader can use to form an... Extra-nomial? (visual or otherwise) ...connection to the character. It's fine if a character has more than one, but it needs to be a fairly short list so that the reader can recall it quickly when it comes up in the text.

    Harry Potter: Scar, glasses.

    Long John Silver: Missing leg.

    Eddard Stark: Ice.

    There are, of course, several further considerations:

    1) Some characters actually exist to provide a proxy for the reader (or, in less fortunate cases, the author). These characters lack such a touchstone *intentionally.* Romance novel protagonists often fall into this category.

    2) The touchstone need not be a physical characteristic of the character, nor is it necessary that the touchstone be a characteristic of the character, per se. It can also be a tick or habit, or (as in the final case above) another entity with which the character is associated.

    If a character is going to have a touchstone, it should be introduced pretty damn quickly, because you can't retroactively add in details to a reader's mental picture. Either way, once this initial window of opportunity is closed, don't go adding in specific details: generalizations are all right, but (except in the case that you're reminding the reader about something you've mentioned previously, like in a later installment of a serial work), details should be avoided.

    Description beyond that is generally unhelpful.


    Further note: I am reminded of an exercise from a group I used to attend. A piece described a car in almost personal terms, mentioning, among other things, a bent wheel and rust. After those in attendance had read the piece, the instructor asked what color the car was.

    Everyone had an answer.

    The piece never mentioned the color of the car.


    Changed wording to reflect validity of non-sensory traits.
    Last edited by archer88iv; March 19th, 2013 at 07:25 PM.
    Don't take my advice personally. Also don't expect me to provide disclaimers like, "Just my opinion, but..." You should know that by now.

  5. #5
    Need?? There are bazillion characters in literature without a "touchstone" or any described characteristics.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by archer88iv View Post
    Each character needs
    I didn't read anything past the emboldened word. You could have made the most compelling argument in history and it wouldn't have mattered.
    Hidden Content

    Hidden Content

    "One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I'll never know." ~ Groucho Marx.

    "It is better to be feared than loved, if one cannot be both". ~ Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince.

    "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer". ~ Bruce Lee.

    "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few". ~ Shunryu Suzuki.

    "Give a man a mask and he will show you his true face". ~ Oscar Wilde.

    "He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not learn is in great danger". ~ Confucius.

  7. #7
    I know I have a touchstone -- it's my luxuriously thick and shiny hair.

  8. #8
    A bazillion. Can you actually name one?
    Don't take my advice personally. Also don't expect me to provide disclaimers like, "Just my opinion, but..." You should know that by now.

  9. #9
    Sure. Right now, I'm well into Philip Roth's Deception. So far, no "touchstones."

  10. #10
    From Amazon:

    Davies: Nothing notable
    Javits: "Red"
    Carlos: "Operator"
    Gyle: "Professional"
    Walsh: "President"
    Johnson: "Wealth, Seniority"
    Hunt: "Burnout"
    Ivanovich: "Butcher"

    I'm going to confess, Joseph, that I don't see anything notable in the Amazon preview of Roth's Deception, either.
    Don't take my advice personally. Also don't expect me to provide disclaimers like, "Just my opinion, but..." You should know that by now.

Page 1 of 6 123456 LastLast


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
This website uses cookies
We use cookies to store session information to facilitate remembering your login information, to allow you to save website preferences, to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners.