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Details. How much is too much?

July 16, 2013

By Anne Hawkinson

Details play a huge role in any story.  The reader learns who the main character is, where he/she came from, what happens, and finally, how it ends.  With the first sentence you write, the reader is provided with bits and pieces of information that draws them into the story.

So how much detail do you provide?  How much is too much – or too little?  As a writer of middle-grade fiction, I have to frequently reign myself in and edit the sensory details I’m so fond of.  I think if I was writing for an adult audience, I could get away with a page or two of getting my character from here to there while providing luxurious, sensuous tidbits to dangle on the page like the proverbial carrot.

I want to provide my readers with a sensory setting, but I don’t want to leave them sitting on a fallen stump in the middle of the woods, bored to death and unwilling to follow me to the next chapter.  It’s tricky, this providing details thing.

I want my characters to smell pine needles in the forest, feel ice cold water in the creek, taste rhubarb crumble, see the pumpkin-laden kitchen garden, and hear the moose crashing through the brush, hot on their heels.  I want to make sure they “get it” without smothering them with it.

Thank goodness I belong to a writer’s critique group!  I give each chapter my best shot, and then listen carefully to the feedback I receive.  Sometimes (okay, most times!) I take their advice, but there are places where I won’t compromise.  I handle constructive criticism very well, but in the end the story still belongs to me, and I need it to have my voice and end up being the story I wanted to tell in the first place.

Reading out loud provides a whole new perspective to my just-completed chapters.  Not only do I get the chance to see how the story flows off the tongue, but I can get a sense if I’m spending too much time in one place, or going on and on about some detail that really isn’t all that important.  I just got carried away.

I lay pillow-propped in bed with my draft and, armed with my red pen, slice through chunks of backstory and delicious descriptors that do nothing to move my reader along.  Sometimes I save tidbits too savory to waste, promising myself a place for them in this story or the next.

Anne Hawkinson writes middle-grade fiction.  She draws on her Minnesota roots and her love of family, tradition, and adventure to provide the inspiration and substance for the stories that dwell in her imagination.  Her website is: http://annehawkinson.com/.

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