Posts Tagged With: details

When Violence Fails Writers

A couple months ago, the New York Post wrote concerning television shows — ones otherwise known for their writing — pushing violence to new levels, raising the ire of even dedicated fans. The article notes that these shows seem to be in an “arms race” to see who can outdo each other.

I don’t think the Post is being prudish here, and I get that everyone has their tolerance levels, but at some point gratuitousness becomes a crutch that replaces good storytelling. I suppose everyone’s answer to, “How far is too far?” is a bit different, but those answers are no doubt reflective our own beliefs. The article also ponders how much television is reflective a cultural norms — or is it not reflective of any majority? That’s a whole other discussion, but right now my focus is on the writing, as this applies to books as well. Novelist Robert Bidinotto wrote on how he addressed this issue:

My stories deal with rough, tough people doing a lot of vicious and violent things. However, fiction always has dealt with unpleasant subject matter, yet the finest narrative artists have never found it necessary to descend into gore-fests, or to detailed descriptions of degeneracy and perversion, in order to write tales about evil that are compelling. (Think of Fyodor Dostoyevsky [Crime and Punishment], for example.)

Art is all about selectivity in presenting reality. Artists do not have to show everything, let alone dwell on it, in order to focus on the most important things.

This dovetails in my previous discussions on details in books: Finding balance between too much or too little.

The craft — the art — of writing demands learning to balance details and to avoid crutches. Also, violence and the unpleasant aren’t to be avoided, but there are thoughtful ways to present it. Regardless of where you choose to draw the line in your books, choose craft over laziness.

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Details, Details

I previously wrote on the importance of finding the right balance of details in a novel:

It’s true that too little detail is boring. Just as certain is that not allowing a story to breathe, to capture the reader and bring them in, is just as boring. It doesn’t take a lot of detail to paint a picture in the mind. A perception. A feeling. An immersive book doesn’t have to be 200,000 words long. Fewer and purposefully chosen words can ignite the reader’s imagination, draw them inside and propel them forward.

Novelist and professor James Hynes, in his course Writing Great Fiction, also implores writers to get your details right:

…evocative writing provides significant detail, but it doesn’t overwhelm the reader. The point is to draw something out of your readers, which you can’t do if you pour too much in. This is a tricky balance to get right, and beginning writers often have the most difficulty with it. Just as one common error among young writers is not providing enough detail, another…is to overcompensate by telling to much. Often, inexperienced writers will go on for several paragraphs about the appearance of a character or place when a few well-chosen sentences or words would have done just as well.

Finding the right balance of detail can allow your readers disappear into your book, or make your book disappear.

Categories: Fiction, Writing | Tags: | 1 Comment

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