Sixth stop on my international blog tour, Dublin Ireland. Thanks so much to Paul Carroll for hosting me; it’s good to be here.
I'm sure we’ve all heard the old adage, "The devil is in the details". I've certainly found this to be true when writing novels. Some days it is devilishly tricky to strike the proper balance between too many details and not enough of the little beggars.
As an author, my job is to keep my reader totally engrossed in my story. I don't want them to put it down until they’ve finished it. When a reader finishes a book in one session, they become completely convinced that the book was "too good to put down". This leads to them telling their friends about the book that was too good to put down, which leads to more people who want to read my books.
As long as I can keep the reader's mind entirely inside of my story, there’s no danger of them putting the book down voluntarily. If they do have to put it down, I want them to be thinking about it, with their mind still in the story, until they have the opportunity to pick it back up.
In order to keep a reader that involved in a story, the place has to seem like a real place. The characters have to seem like real people. And the reader has to be able to relate the problems facing the hero.
What does that have to do with descriptive details? Everything!
If I put my characters in a car and send them someplace, it’s not very interesting if they’re traveling through a blank, gray wasteland. My readers’ minds will be wandering off, trying to figure out those background details I haven’t given. To keep that from happening, I have to provide some of the details of what is happening outside of the car.
Think about it. If you’re a passenger in a car, even if you’re involved in a conversation, you are peripherally aware of what is going on outside of the car. You’re aware of the landmarks you pass, red lights you stop at, and the idiot on the motorcycle who just cut you off. If I put some of these descriptors in between the lines of dialogue, it’s much more interesting to read and seems more like a real conversation.
At first novice writers might think that the more detail that’s included, the better the story will be. This is not true. Too many details are just as damaging to your readers’ attention span as too few. For example, if my character walks into an office for an interview, time is not going to stop while they examine every item in the office and describe it in their mind in loving detail. They’ll pick up the details a little at a time as various objects come to their attention.
As they first step through the door, they’ll notice the color and lushness of the carpet. When they greet the interviewer across the desk, they’ll notice the size and placement of the desk, and possibly what it’s made of, if it’s an unusual material. No one is going to consciously notice a plain metal office desk with Formica top, when they are busy being concerned with their upcoming interview. However, they might notice the beautiful hand-carved oak desk with a glass top to protect the carvings, simply because of its unusual construction.
They’ll probably not notice what the interviewer is wearing, unless they were worried about their own appearance earlier, and are comparing the two outfits in their mind. They will notice the one outstanding physical characteristic of the interviewer, however, whether it’s hair of an unusual length, style, or color, an overly large nose, eyes that don't match, or a prominent wart. Most characters should have one outstanding physical characteristic, which is mentioned often enough in the narrative to assist in identification.
What’s the right amount of detail to include? This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer. A lot of it depends on the setting, not just of your novel, but of the particular scene within the novel. For example, most people have seen enough historical movies, that if the characters are in a large manor house, and I state they walk into the library, the reader can provide a picture of a large room full of books, probably containing a fireplace with a grouping of chairs nearby. However, if I have the character walk into the buttery, the reader is likely to conjure a picture of a small room with a wooden butter churn. A buttery is actually a small room near the dining room where plates, silverware, and other serving implements are kept handy. In this instance, a quick description of either the appearance or the use of the room is in order.
When I sent The Siege of Kwennjurat out to my beta readers, there were several places where they asked me for more details. There were also several places where they noted the action was too slow, and I therefore removed some of the details. In one place, I knew I had the mix exactly right, because one reader asked for more details while another was complaining there were too many. Learning how many details and where to put them is an ongoing process for every author.
About the book: The Siege of Kwennjurat is the second book in the Kwennjurat Chronicles. Alone in Kwenndara, Princess Tanella cares for the refugees from war-torn Jurisse, while she worries about her loved ones’ safety. Her new husband Fergan is two days away in Renthenn, coordinating the business of two kingdoms.
Kings Jameisaan and Fergasse join forces in Jurisse to pursue the war against the Black Army. They know Liammial hasn't played his last card, and are willing to give their lives to protect their people and their children.
Who will triumph and claim the throne of Kwennjurat?
About the author: A M Jenner lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with her family, a car named Babycakes, several quirky computers, and around 5,000 books. A self-professed hermit, she loves to interact with her readers online. Her books are available at www.am-jenner.com, as well as most major online retailers.