9 Ways to Know You Have Enough Detail in Your Writing
Detail can make or break a piece of writing. It allows people to get a clear picture and can trigger all kinds of emotional and mental responses. At some point, though, you simply don’t need more. How do you know when you’ve reached this point?
- Imagine you were summarizing or creating an abridged version. Is including the information necessary for the reader to understand what you meant? If not, you probably can leave it out. Many details are simply “nice to have” or asides, rather than foundational.
- Ask yourself what narrative service the detail offers. For instance, does it somehow provide a plot clue? Evoke an emotion or symbolism? Give a glimpse of a character’s past? If it’s not providing a service, then it’s dead weight in the draft.
- Consider balance. Does adding the detail put too much weight on one character or plot point? Does it throw off the pacing of the piece by keeping the reader in one place?
- Read your draft fast a few times. If you find yourself skimming over the same details each time, then they’re probably not adding value.
- Consider your technical limits. Maybe you could write a 200,000-word behemoth. But if your genre standard is just 80,000, let yourself type a final period and move on.
- Think about norms. Writing for a specific audience usually means you include some “insider information” by default. If you’re just reiterating what your audience already should know, then you’re not doing them any favors by including the detail and might even come off as condescending.
- Ask if the detail refreshes what’s common. Anybody can say “The girl had brown hair.” It’s new to say “The girl’s hair was the color of the sturdy walnut trees, fringed by wisps of willow that grew around her ears.”
- Consider the reader’s imagination. If you’re laying out everything to such a degree that the reader can’t visualize anything for themselves, back off. Get them started with just two or three brush strokes. Then, get out of the way.
- Ask if the detail is your best option. The best details usually tell something unusual or specific.