I’ve read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings at least 10 times through. The first time through I read every word, but later I skimmed the long passages that described how it was raining, or cold, or the woods were magical, or some other detail, to get back to the meat of the plot.
I’m reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, now for the pleasure of it, although it started out as a learning experience in world-building. The depth of Martin’s creation is amazing, the level of detail is extraordinary. I wonder, though, if in later readings (I assume I will read it again) I would stop marveling at details, become impatient, and say “Get on with it!” and skip through the “unnecessary” details. I’ve just started A Dance with Dragons, and there’s this long passage where Tyrion and Illyrio riding in a litter to the river. There’s some conversation occurring, and a little information – although most of it is of a nature that the reader has already heard before. They stop at one point and while Illyrio is taking care of some business, Tyrion examines (and describes) the quality of the Valyrian road. What is actually being accomplished? Oh look, the road was well engineered? (actually, Martin might be conveying information about how advanced the Valerians were, and how much knowledge and quality has been lost with their passing.)
Is it possible to detail a story to death? Sort of like an episode of Soap, where two women are in the kitchen. The guest is trying to talk about a serious situation, but her hostess keeps interrupting the guest to offer her coffee, and then cream, sugar, “How much sugar – one or two?”, and all these unnecessary details totally derail what the guest is trying to say (the more important part of the plot.)
Fact is, in each of the examples I cited (even Soap), the writers had a purpose. Tolkien and Martin were reeling you into the depths of their worlds – all that detail gave you a feeling of how things were for the characters, and what came before. And Soap was a parody – if they had just sat in the kitchen and talked seriously (and dramatically), they would become the soap opera they were parodying.
Still, the details should be the servant of the story – giving it life, and depth, drawing the reader into its world. To make the sketch into a painting. If the description becomes the most important part, so that the paint obscures the plot-lines – that’s where it has gone horribly wrong.
Sure – I may have skimmed The Lord of the Rings in subsequent readings, but the first time through I hung on every word, and those details were part of what kept me reading. As I continue to give Swordsmaster more detail, I hope I have the wisdom to know the difference between enhancing my story and obscuring it. Just saying…
Folks – my blog is not heavily trafficked, but I don’t get comments as I would think I might. It’s possible that what I write isn’t worth commenting on, but I worry that it could also be that my settings are wrong (I do moderate to make sure I don’t wind up with advertising bots or obscenities, but that should at least give me something to accept or reject.) Please do me a favor and post a comment/reply so I can make sure I’m not just operating in a black hole, here. Thanx!
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