Leaving room for Imagination

Photo: Netherlands Windmill: Around The World Art #037 by digitalrob70 CC by 2.0
Photo: Netherlands Windmill: Around The World Art #037 by digitalrob70 CC by 2.0

When I went to RWDU recently, there was one thing advised over and over again.

Do not read your reviews.

The good ones can buoy you, but the bad ones can tear out your soul and crumble the desire to ever write again. Needless to say, I’ve ignored their advice. I’ve been pretty lucky, so far, that even the ‘bad’ reviews are fair and reasonable. They’re not just…’This author sucks and needs to concentrate on anything but writing.’…types. They have valid points – Mostly. (I’m still scratching my head over the ‘too much Australian slang and colloquialism’; when it’s a book set in Australia and has Australian characters – but hey – each to his own.)

One of the common critiques I’m noticing is essentially – ‘not enough detail’. If it was mentioned in one or two reviews, I may have simply ignored it, but it comes up a few times in reviews of varying star ratings.

I have a background in theatre. Acting and watching.
I’ve seen tense courtroom dramas with nothing but a table and chairs. The bathroom, which is an integral place for several scenes, was created only by lighting and sound effects. No props.
I’ve been in a musical where the entire cast wore black, and minor props were used to indicate items. A white skirt and veil over the actor’s black clothing to indicate a wedding dress. Disco lights and a thumping beat to indicate a rave scene, when there was only ever one actor on stage.

Photo: imagine dragons by michael dornbierer CC by 2.0
Photo: imagine dragons by Michael Dornbierer CC by 2.0

 

With this in my background, I believe that the smallest touch of detail to indicate an item is enough to set the imagination free. Free to bring the audiences’ backgrounds, experiences, and expectations forward to fill in the gaps.

The character picks a rose while talking to a neighbour….okay, they have a rose bush in the back yard.
The character has their hand on the smooth cherry wood of the banister…okay, the house has stairs and a second story.
The character has placed a water bottle on the table as he sits at his computer…that tells me so much as well.

To be completely honest, I love reading stories where the details are revealed little by little, through the actions of the characters. The worst thing for me is reading a page and a half describing the layout of the room, and the fact it has a north facing window, and green wallpaper above the mahogany wainscot and that the wallpaper has a rose and violet flower pattern.

Snore.

If it’s important to the story, fine. Like, one of the roses actually hides a peep-hole – then it’s important to know the pattern of the wallpaper. Or imparts information about the character. You can get a sense of the woman who chooses a rose and violet flower pattern wallpaper, particularly in a contemporary story.

However, I don’t want to put all that (unnecessary) detail into a story. It feels like an ‘info dump’. I think it slows pace and I’ll have readers flicking pages to skip it. But, maybe I don’t have the experience – yet – of being able to exclude it with finesse. I just don’t understand why people would want to have everything painted in such fine and precise detail.

I was talking to a friend about it, and her theory is that people are more visually stimulated these days. TV. Movies. Internet. They are so used to having the entire experience laid out in front of them, that they are not familiar with needing their imaginations. They want that detail.

Photo: Tethered by Anne Worner CC BY-TA 2.0
Photo: Tethered by Anne Worner CC BY-TA 2.0

 

While I don’t agree completely with her theory, I do concede that she may have a point.

I like watercolour paintings and their indicated sense of experience, but maybe what readers want today, is a photograph.

Taking this on board, I am endeavouring to add more detail to Zeph (Nephilim Code #3) and struggling with my innate repulsion of ‘too much detail’; but knowing that my bare minimum preference is obviously ‘not enough’.

So what do you think? Is ‘too much detail’ better than ‘not enough’? And when do you know if the detail is ‘enough’?

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6 thoughts on “Leaving room for Imagination

  1. I think it’s a fine line. You want to throw in bits and pieces here and there. I don’t like info dumps either. Pick your details to keep things interesting or enough to get the imagination going. That’s my advice 🙂

  2. I like your story’s and I find them good as they are, enough details about the characters and their housing. Not interested in their choice of wallpaper. 😄 books need to leave something to the imagination, I love creating my own vision to your story’s. And a bit of australian slang is good, because your characters are Aussies, it all adds to your story. Looking forward to read about Zeph, but you don’t have to add what underpants he is wearing unless it is important for the story. 😄lol

  3. I just read Nova and Edwards’ stories over the last 2 days. They were haunting and gripping and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a writer as well. You walk the fine line with finesse. Tell your story the way your heart feels it and we will read.

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