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How Much Is Enough Detail in Creative Writing?

Is it possible to go overboard with detail in an attempt to fill in gaps that a reader may point out at a later date? How does one know when to stop?

Children who have avid imagination tend to miss out on details while writing. They see the story vividly in their minds as imagination flows at a fast pace. Writing takes time. By then the scene in their minds has changed. Hence the tendency to leave out details. They write and often are tired, wanting to move on to the next activity. They don't read their writing. So they never know what it feels like to be a reader reading their story. The only reader's feedback they get is in the lines of good or bad or in the lines of "Your story needs more detail."

What kind of detail?

The reader is a tough one to please. Some love reading picturesque details about the view, the character's emotions/thoughts and some want to get on with the story. We have been reading Horrible Harriet's Inheritance by Leigh Hobbs at the Young Readers' Club. Horrible Harriet as the very name suggests is a horrible person in every aspect one can possibly imagine. The story shows the various horrible aspects of her personality in a very quirky manner which does make this book a very different kind of a read. While we plotted the story map to understand the rising action component in the story, it felt like there was a long pause before we could reach the climax. The pause was on account of detailed descriptions of Horrible Harriet dreaming about becoming the queen. They were funny, no doubt. But having caught on to the suspense that the author had so beautifully built, that detail felt like a deviation from the main plot. We were waiting for a twist to happen as the story had gone in a linear direction for a long time. The wait for the twist seemed too long.

Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, on the other hand being a historical fiction had to be packed with enough detail about the time in which it is set, the locations, the events in the background, their impact on the protagonist, her emotions etc. Set in the time of Hitler when many Jews were trying to figure a way to escape from his wrath, the book brings forth a perspective of a person living outside of Germany. Anna's father is a writer who is wanted by the Nazis. Anna and her family are forced to leave everything behind and leave Germany as their lives are at stake. They move from city to city in Europe as Hitler's tyranny worsens. What was the impact outside of Germany? That's what the book brings forth through this very powerful story. Without the intricate details provided in the story, the book wouldn't have had the impact it has on the readers. They were absolutely essential to get a grasp of the story. Not just that the details helped carry the story forward.

Extent of detail required depends on the story

A book like the Diary of the Wimpy kid is meant to be a fast, funny and engaging read. Details are just right to enable the reader understand Greg's story. Nothing more, nothing less. In contrast, imagine if the Harry Potter Series sporting minimum detail. It would cease to be a magical read. What kind of experience does a writer wants the reader to have? Perhaps answering that question would indicate how much is more or less for detail.

From the reader perspective

A book club is an ideal place to gauge reader reactions. Of course preferences and interests differ but that's what makes reading together a fruitful activity. Every reader responds differently to the writer's approach. Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson received multiple reactions. Some keenly read information about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Others felt that it was something that they could not relate to and had little relevance to the main storyline. Yet the story was compelling enough for us to continue reading. This book being set in a historical time, details became crucial to grasp the seriousness of the story. A story that is set in a common real time may not require so much detail as we can easily visualise the scene. Fantasy on the other hand would require more detail to mirror the writer's imagination.

What is the right amount of detail?

There perhaps cannot be a universal rule. Utmost it depends upon the genre and what the reader is likely to expect out of the story. Discussing the extent of detail and its impact on the story as a whole helps children to use those takeaways when it comes to their writing as well.


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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-11 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 12-14 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.

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