The tall, buxom, platinum-haired woman sauntered into the Ritz Carlton’s brightly lit ballroom, hips swaying to the Bossa nova beat pumping through small speakers all along the golden wallpapered walls. A handsome waiter dressed in a tuxedo and carrying a silver tray laden with flutes of champagne, weaved through the crowd toward her. His greenish-blue eyes met hers, shining bright from his bronzed, chiseled face and contrasting with the dark stubble along his jaw.
Phew! Just reading that makes me exhausted, the perfect example of too much description. Somewhere in the pile of words above, a man and woman meet and chemistry occurs but you really couldn’t get that. So what if we try this: A blond woman walked into the ballroom where music played. A handsome waiter in a tuxedo walked toward her, carrying drinks. Their eyes met.
Slightly better but not by much, huh? Why not? They both lack balance. One leaves the reader’s sensory perception completely overwhelmed and the other leaves the reader with too many questions. In the second version, we have no idea what period the story is set in, what type of music they are listening to or what kind of drinks the waiter is carrying. For all we know, it could be set in the eighteenth century or the twenty-first century.
So how do you know when you’re dealing with too many or too little details? Well here’s a few pointers:
• When you read your work aloud are you stumbling over the words or running out of breath? If so, check the flow. If the sentences aren’t run-on make sure all those words are needed.
• Does it take your character three pages to walk across a room or ten to drive down a lone country road? This goes hand in hand with giving each chapter and/or scene a purpose in your overall work as well as pacing.
• Are you leaving anything to the reader’s imagination? An author’s job is to set the clues and paint enough of the picture that the reader’s senses can pick up on the rest and fill in the blanks.
• Are you leaving too much to the reader’s imagination? A reader full of questions most likely won’t have the patience to continue through the book. They still need to feel the story otherwise the author really isn’t doing a very good job.
These are only a few tips. For any of you out there who have other suggestions on how you balance the details, please share. Now, back to work!