The Divine Detail

Hello all – happy New Year and all that cheerful stuff. Hope the days ahead are bright, the weather snow free (unless that’s what you’re into), and your pen swift.

Here at the Waking Den, we like to kick weeks off with a few words for thought, and so this week, at the beginning of the new year, we’re following suit with a detail I find key, especially in fantasy works:

“Caress the detail, the divine detail.” ~Vladimir Nabokov

Detail. Now, I know this is one some folks will quirk an eyebrow at. Purveyors of the more Hemingway style of writing will tell you minimalism is key – too much detail washes out the story, drums it away from the personalities that make it. While I agree it can be a valid style in many situations, I would say for my own preferred style (fantasy, if you didn’t catch that), such is not the case.

Fantasy, after all, is largely about taking us away to new locations, new worlds, new realms of thought. What is society like? What is the land like? What are the people like? The magic, for Tolkien‘s sake? While it’s easy to overdo it, and overload readers with detail, the fact is we need description to aid that mighty “suspension of disbelief,” or to simply pain the picture of the world for us. It is divine in its way, for are we not crafting a whole new place to lodge our existence, however temporarily? There’s just so much to learn, so much to see…one should bare the soul of those places to our readers’ eyes, and let us drink it in.

This is not to say, give me 15 pages on that fellow’s eyeball over there. No, it takes creativity. A mix of subtlety and timing. There are places for longer descriptions, to be sure, but the more you can weave flawlessly into the moment, into the scene, into the action…the more you will captivate.

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3 thoughts on “The Divine Detail

  1. I think that the whole key to detail is a precision of detail. Even in fantasy, too much detail can glaze eyeballs, but if people choose the right ones to show, they can bring a world to life.

    The hair on the feet of hobbits springs to mind. 🙂

  2. You hit it on the nail Galfy. To add my two cents, Often times it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by trying to incorporate detail separate from the rest of the book, but a practiced writer will find the three “primary Colors” so to say of a story: Settings, Characters, and Plots, are opportunities for detail, and indeed adding little things here and there best feel like mixing colors to create ever fascinating and infinitely varying shades within the overall book, to me.

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