Some readers love descriptive detail that transports them to another place or time. Others, not so much. So, how does one walk that very fine live to satisfy as many readers as possible?
First, you have to know your reader. Are you writing to an audience that loves sumptuous detail and the power of beautifully crafted words? Or, are you writing to an audience that wants a fun, quick read that takes them away for a while?
The key, I believe, is in precision and placement. Below are a few tips.
Don’t put the burden on the reader
Don’t expect a reader to remember the layout of a house or room—tell details when they’re needed. If a murder is about to take place and the victim is going to run through a maze of rooms, tell the reader directly before it happens, instead of asking the reader to remember your description from earlier chapters.
Know which details mater
Depending on the type of story you’re telling, the amount of detail required can vary. If a murder is going to take place in a library, and the clue to solving the murder is that one book is out of place in a room filled with perfectly set books, you better tell the reader. Conversely, if the desk in the library does not factor in, you can leave out the detail describing its intricately hand-carved scrolling.
Borrow from images already engrained
The depth of the shadows and the moonlight streaming through the windows made Nadia feel that Dracula could be lurking around every corner.
You are borrowing images that may already be in the reader’s mind. The reader could see a black and white movie image, or a more recent cinematic rendition—but will conjure up the feeling the image represents.
Borrowing another image, can set a romantic tone. For example:
The palatial home—with its many, large rooms and grand staircase—was fit for Cinderella.
In the end, you must find the balance that suits you and your readers and best serves the story you’re telling!