I’ve been working on a scene involving a spiritual ceremony. It is based on a real ritual. The initial part scene is full of sensory details and the mechanics of the ceremony. Yesterday, I sat down to write and as usual, I read the last few paragraphs to refresh my recollection and get into the mood of the scene. During the read back, I realized that, though vivid, the scene had so much detail that is slowed the pace to a crawl. Just as important, was the fact that so much detail was, not necessarily, important to help create the feelings I wanted the reader to experience.
This particular scene has two primary purposes. First, to foreshadow upcoming events and second, to enhance the conflict. As I wrote the scene initially, I went into all of the details of the ceremony trying to make it as real for the reader as if they were actually there. My thinking was that it would be easier for the reader to understand the source of ‘visions’ (i.e action) the protagonist was having in the later part of the scene. When I read the scene, the experience of the ceremony was there. However, it took a long time to get to the purpose of the scene. I’m not ready to trash the experiential detail as yet. I want to finish the scene and see if the action of the second half offsets the slow pace of the beginning. If it does, I’ll leave it in. If not, it will get sliced during revision.
I much prefer a quicker paced read. Give me enough detail to paint a picture and move on. My imagination is vivid enough to fill in the blanks, Some of the ‘Masters’ e.g. Tolkien, Jordan, Brooks, drive me nuts with the amount of detailed description. Is a four page dissertation about a pastoral setting really necessary to bring the reader into the setting? I’m sorry, but the answer is, no. Most people who read the fantasy genre already have overactive imaginations. They only need a swift kick in the pants to get an image in their heads and to the reader, their version is more vivid than the writer can explain it anyway.
However…There are times when detail is necessary. Usually this happens when the thing being described is critical to the story. For example, the description of the one Ring in LOTR. It is THE critical piece of the story so taking the time to describe it, makes perfect sense. The thing to keep in mind when adding detail to your scene is, ‘How important is the description to the Plot?’. If it is not that important, a few words or lines should be sufficient to set the scene and bring in the reader’s senses. If it is ‘the One Ring’ of your story, go ahead and take some time. It will add emphasis the reader will grasp.
As always, try to mix your setting details and descriptions into the action and/or dialogue so as to avoid the infamous info dump.
So, tell me, Do you prefer a lot of detailed description or can you get by with just enough to pique your imagination?