Tuesday, June 16, 2009

If it Quacks Like a Duck ...

“If you're going to describe a cat, you don't need to tell us every last detail about the feline. We all know that cats have four legs, four paws, two ears, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and whiskers. So don't tell us things that we already know. We'll get bored.” – Sigmund Brouwer in Writing Tip #7: Four Good Rules for Good Writing.
Since I write flash fiction, this is a big issue for me. How much description is enough? Too much? How much information do I provide the reader about a setting, and how much do I let the reader assume?

A story I'm working on begins with a woman standing in front of a dresser. A pair of briefs lie on the floor next to her. There's a picture of her son on the dresser. Atop a bookshelf in one corner stand trophies topped by football players, baseball players, and bowlers. The members of U2 watch her from a poster tacked to the ceiling. The reader knows the woman is in her son's bedroom and that he's an athlete and a U2 fan. Is that enough? I included the wall colors in the original, but decided to omit that and let the reader decide. As the author of today's quote points out, there's a fine line between showing the reader what he needs to know and boring him with excessive details.

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