Writing Long vs. Compact

I’ve noticed when I write a short story, I manage to add a plethora of detail to the characters, descriptions, settings, and all. Not that I hadn’t included detail in my novels, but maybe it’s because short stories seem so much more compact that I think I’ve stuffed more adjective and descriptors in there. In some of my short stories, I imagine them packed with descriptions and it feels like I’m right there in the story. For my novels, I look back and while I’ve heard people give me that same feeling as feedback, I feel like at some points I imagine as if I was auto-pilot, aiming for a word count rather than focusing in on every sentence.

I don’t think there’s really a way for me to change this feeling. Especially when you’re in the heart of the rough draft or especially after the climax, you eventually just want to complete the story. If you filled every sentence with an abundance of detail, the story would be bogged down and no one would make it passed the first page. For example, I love reading works by Stephen King. He uses great detail and is one of the greatest suspense writers in all of human history, but there are also times in his stories where I think he goes into too much detail and I almost get lost in the field of neck-high weeds. Now, maybe I’m the only person who feels this way because obviously he’s nearly a billionaire because of his writing and I couldn’t pay a utility bill with my earnings but, then again, maybe I’m not the only one who’s noticed his overabundance of detail. I agree, detail is important and essential to every story. Just some of them are necessary and some are not.

Many of you may or may not be Nicholas Sparks fans but I am and if you read my book and liked it, you’d probably like his. I think Nicholas Sparks has great pace to his stories. He doesn’t pack everything into the first few pages and he doesn’t leave essential information for the last page. His stories seem to follow a natural arc that keep you intrigued, don’t bog you down, and flow effortlessly. Nicholas Sparks has a unique style to each of his novels and while many include the same components, similar to a formula, that’s what his fans like to read. Similar to Stephen King, he has devout fans who like the types of stories he writes, so why change them? Different characters, variable background, but similar arcs. If he has a formula to his stories, it’s obviously a winning one. He’s a self-made millionaire who’s novels become movies and he gets to live the dream and make his living by his own creation.

I write each day whether it be working on a story or writing a blog. I’d like to pump out novels like Sparks and wish I could pump them out at the rate of Stephen King, but I need to get to that level of proliferation where I can write fifty-thousand-word stories at a steady rate. I guess it really only comes with practice, but I need a plot and I need characters and I need background. I have to really love a story concept to stick with it for fifty-thousand words because, unlike Sparks and King, I don’t have the ability to write for potentially eight hours per day as my job, I have yet to earn that. I must work with 1-2 hours daily and span it out over the course of a few months. Short stories are easier to wrap up because the length comes in the detail and the plot will always be there. It’s hard to keep up that same level of essential detail with a larger word count because you don’t want to get bogged down in it, you want to finish the story. Luckily, the editing process enables you to add all the detail you missed trying to quickly wrap up the plot.

We’ve all read stories where nothing happens for so long that we lose our desire to keep reading. As a writer, you don’t want to bog down your reader to where they reach that point but you also don’t want to leave out the important details that make up the portrait in your head that only you can see but must adequately describe to those reading your story. This is something that comes with time and with writing. You can’t learn it in school but only by physically reading and writing. It’s up to you to figure out what’s too much and too little. Luckily, that’s what beta-readers, proofreaders, and editors are for. They help you know what’s necessary to your story.

What do you think of detail in stories, the more the better or keep it simple? Do you like stories that go so in-depth as to tell you the character stepped on a crack in the sidewalk in their Chuck Taylors or is it enough to know they strolled passed storefronts near the water?

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