I am having a hard time with adding detail, I feel it may leave a good chunk of the story out, but I don't know for sure if I should really add it or not. If I do end up with too much detail, my readers can get easily bored and not want to read anymore of my story.

  • 1
    What type of detail are we talking about? Description of characters, settings, anything? You mention leaving "a good chunk of the story out" which has me thinking about subplot (which, I suppose, can be seen as detail too). Commented May 19, 2017 at 8:04
  • what do you mean by "add it in later"? In a later draft? Commented May 22, 2017 at 13:40
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    If you feel like you need details, put them in (you can always strip them later). If you feel like they slow down the pace of your story, omit them (you can always add them later). Plow through your first draft any way you see fit to finish it, then run your story by a circle of readers you trust and listen to what they say.
    – Lew
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 16:57

4 Answers 4


It's a very strange question. You're effectively asking if the coffee needs more sugar before anybody has tasted it. And even if we had tasted said coffee we all take varying amounts of sugar.

Personally, I insist any detail be relevant. If you're telling me Brian wore brown shoes I'd need to know why you felt I needed that information. If the killer is revealed as wearing brown shoes then the detail is relevant.

My personal mantra is "Never stop a story to insert a description."

Any statement including a description must also serve other functions.

e.g. "Ever since her divorce Amy had little more than lounge around the house in her old, grey sweatpants."


There is a huge difference between plot and story. A plot is a sequence of events that happened for a reason. A plot requires only technical detail.

A story is an experience. It is the observation of or an entry into the live of, a particular person in a particularly place and time, who is experiencing the events of the plot.

A plot can be received on a purely intellectual level. Who was the murderer? It was the man with the brown shoes.

A story is received viscerally. It is received by the same set of senses that real life is received by (thought through a different sensory input, obviously). We remember its scenes, not merely (or not only) its words. Thus we have a memory of Rivendell or the Shire or Mordor in our heads that is a visual and auditory and olfactory memory, as if we had actually visited these places. (Peter Jackson obviously received a very different memory of these places than I did!)

Creating a story as a visceral experience obviously requires more detail than the simple recounting of a plot. On the other hand, it does not require that you relate every detail that goes into the reader's visceral experience and ends up in their sense memory of the event. Rather, you rely on what is called the "telling detail", the few scraps of imagery that irresistibly pull a much more complete picture into the reader's head.

This when Prospero says:

The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples

We get a picture in our heads that is much more complex, full of many more details, than anything that is explicit in the scene. "cloud-capp'd" is the telling detail that evokes an image in the mind that pulls all the rest in with it.

This is whe whole art of detail, to find the telling detail that pulls a whole world of detail in its wake.

If you find that you are leaving out most of the detail, it may well be that on first draft you are really just relating the plot. That may work as a writing technique, but on second draft, you are going to have to tell the story, and that is going to require more than just filling in some more details. Creating an experience for the reader is very much about selection of scenes and about emphasis. It is about when to illustrate in detail and when to bridge. But it is also, certainly, about the telling details that transform the reception of words into the reception of images.

The right selection of scenes and the use of telling detail will never be boring to the reader because it is immersing them in the experience. Some experience will require more details than other to create. Don't worry, therefore, whether you have too much detail. Worry about whether you have the telling details. And when you find the telling details, relate those, and then let them do their work of pulling in the rest of the scene. Don't go on with additional detail that may only interfere with the image that the reader is forming based on the telling detail.


Add details like they cost money.

That being said..

During the race to build the first US transcontinental railroad, both sides operated with the mantra, "Build it first. We'll fix it later." Maybe you should try doing exactly that?

While you're first-drafting, let your story spill out. Just get it down. Later, when you're second-drafting, you'll have the scaffolding in place and a clearer vision. The question of whether to add more detail will likely answer itself under the brighter light.

Something else to consider: Adding content vs deleting and/or reorganizing it. For example..

  • Delete three paragraphs for every one you add
  • Try moving things around..
  • Do you need those adverbs?
  • Target weak sentences loaded down with "be verbs" and rewrite them using their stronger counterparts, "action verbs".

There's a fair amount of discussion on that last thought.

I agree with your observation that too much detail can bore the reader and push them away. So harness this strength of your writing style—write it first, then fix it later.

  • Okay, I'll do that, I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't doing it wrong. Commented May 25, 2017 at 16:25

You're right to be concerned, because there is a fine line between "too much detail" and not enough. Either way, you stand to lose at least part of your audience.

To avoid this, it's helpful to get feedback from your audience. Show your work (or part of it) to five or ten friends and get their reactions. It has been shown that "crowd wisdom" is quite reliable, even though individuals might be far off.

One caveat, and that is that even in the modern day United States, different groups of people may react differently. For instance, the so-called Silent generation (born before World War II) liked lots of detail, while Gen-Xers "cut to the chase" and don't want a story "spoiled" by too many details that they can figure out themselves.

Finally, when you have enough "experience," you may become your own best judge. Many people know that a certain Supreme Court justice said, "I know pornography when I see it." Few know the preceding remarks which went something like this:

"Pornography is something that would be offensive to a man of average sensuality (un homme moyen sensual). I am such a man. Therefore I know it when I see it."


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