For example the book Eragon by Paolini, and Magic Kingdom by Terry Brooks. These both have lots of description. To me that means lots of showing and less telling. Other books don't seem to have that much description. Some Sci-Fi has this as well, Jurassic Park, & Chrichton's other books.

I've downloaded lots of samples from Amazon and these (same genres) have more telling than showing or what I am calling description. These authors aren't as big, maybe they have 100 reviews. On the other hand, Old Man's War didn't have a lot of description in it either, compared to someone like Brooks, and it is very popular.

Are these just different styles?

Edit: This question is useful, but not the same, How to develop a more vivid and descriptive writing style

Edit: Based on what's link, I had this thought:

If it requires a camera and an actor to communicate a scene and feeling in a movie, then you have to show it. We rely on the actors in film to show us how they feel to make it real, whether it is facial expressions, voice tone, or something else. Some actors are better at it than others. The amateur actor tells more than she shows and most times it doesn't make for a good story.

All of us have tried to explain a scene in a movie to a person who didn't it. It's difficult. They have to see it, even though you just told it. "You have to see it" sounds better than saying to someone, "They have to show it."

  • 2
    Description has nothing to do with "show, don't tell". Showing and telling concern how you communicate the emotions of your characters. See the brilliant answers to this question: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/25706/…
    – user5645
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 23:23

3 Answers 3


Fantasy and science fiction books have a major additional task that other genres can avoid if they wish: worldbuilding.

A story of any genre can devote a lot of attention to description and detail, but it isn't a necessity dictated by the choice of genre. But SF and fantasy, as a rule, need to establish a new world. They need to explain how their setting works, how the world functions, how their premise has made the story's reality different from our own.

Even if 99% of the world is mundane, and exactly like our own, the fact that it's in the SF/fantasy genre means readers are coming without assuming that most aspects of the real world carry over to the story. You need to give the readers grounding, let them know where they're landed.

All that being said, there are incredible varieties in style. Plenty of genres, like romance and thrillers and certainly travelogues, will leap at the opportunity to explore a strange or unusual location. And plenty of SF/fantasy writers are sparse and lean, establishing the setting in a very minimal way and leaving it at that.

Bottom line is, yes, there's good reason for fantasy and science fiction to devote extra attention to description. But, if you look, you'll find that pretty much any combination imaginable can be done.


I agree with Standback, but his answer is not generally true.

In this time and age, most readers of Fantasy and Science Fiction have seen so many Science Fiction and Fantasy movies that their minds are full of images of spaceships and dragons. You can expect the average person to be just as familiar with the inside of a spaceship or the physique of a dragon, as with the Eiffel Tower. And just as you do not have to describe the Eiffel Tower in a novel but can simply refer to it by name, because of this common knowledge about Science Fiction and Fantasy worlds that your readers bring to your books, you no longer have to describe the common elements of fantastic stories, either.

You can write "dragon", just as you write "dog", and you can write "spaceship", just as you write "car". Only if you want your readers to think of a particular type of dragon, dog, spaceship, or car, do you need to go into more detail.

I have even argued multiple times before, that you should not stifle the imagination of your readers by prescribing how they should imagine the elements of your tale. Allow them to imagine your horrors in just the way they find most horrible, allow them to project themselves into your narrative, and you will satisfy them the most.

Keep descriptions to a bare minimum. I skip them, anyway.

  • +1 for dragon = dog and spaceship = car these days. That's an added reason why a bit of description should go in. Saying 'dog' means its appearance has no bearing on the plot, otherwise I'd rather know if we're talking about a big or a small breed. Again, 'dragon' conjures a whole lot of different myths and I'd much rather a bit of desccription so I know how many legs (0-2-4) and wing types (or none) I should imagine on the creature. It annoys me to no end picturing something and then later on some event clashes with what I'd imagined. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 17:32

I agree with Standback, but his answer is not generally true.

The meaning of the quote above escapes me. Besides, I happen actually to agree with Standback. The building of a unique world would add color to your story (which should, of course, come first, setting being secondary and all), even if you deploy all the existing cliche elements, like FTL travel, spaceships, dragons, witches, elves, dwarves, vampires, zombies and so on.

Having said that, the level of the details you throw at your reader is up to you and you only, but if you skip them completely, you are risking that your audience will have a different picture in their mind than you are trying to paint.

  • I think he meant not universally true, meaning, I think, not true of himself.
    – user16226
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 21:27

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