July 20, 2009

How much detail?

I'm writing again, specifically the trilogy that helped spark the campaign that I'm trying to make into an RPG.  But I'm running into a problem--how much should I describe of the world?

With a fantasy setting, everything is new.  I'm throwing the reader into a new world that has a different feel and look than anything her or she is used to.  Therefore I should describe some things in high enough detail.

However, I don't feel the need to right now in the first chapter, because those details aren't extremely important to the story.  I feel that most readers will be able to fill in all the gaps they want if need be.  Give someone a few context clues and that give him or her enough to figure out a general idea of what things look like.  Why should I go into superb detail?

I know for a lot of things I will when I start writing the RPG setting, but I feel that's because a setting is a world for other GMs to borrow.  If the GM wanted to fill all the gaps she would create her own world.  Therefore the details are necessary.  But in a story the flow can easily be bogged down by too much description.  I've seen it happen before and I would rather avoid it.

I guess I'll just have to write now and see what cracks need to be filled in, if any.


  1. You could always include a map, even though that is a bit of a cliche in fantasy novels. You certainly want the story to stand alone without the map.

    As to what level of detail, I'd say just enough to let the reader know there is more, and to point out details that will be important later in the story. (that probably doesn't help much).

  2. I believe Roddenberry said this of explaining how everything works in Star Trek: "People today don't stand around explaining how their car or toaster work. Why would it be any different in the future?"
    Provide enough to keep the story moving. If it can't move without exposition, then that's when you put it in.