Trusting Your Readers to “Get It”: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Much Description

Reading is a participation pastime, which is sometimes difficult for writers to remember. Rather than witnessing a visually inflexible world—as with movies, TV, etc.—readers are called on to use their own imagination and understanding of the world to fill in the gaps. This means that, in a sense, releasing your finished book represents an act of confidence in readers as a general institution, thinking, “I’ve done my part; the rest is up to them.” Easier thought than done.

One of the more challenging things for writers to keep in mind is that readers are capable of understanding the point of an exchange, scene, or sequence with just a few well-placed clues. Particularly when a scene is loaded with action or some your loveliest description, it’s hard to admit that readers can get the point with less—and that whether or not less is always more, more is definitely less when your reader got it several details ago and is now getting irked at your verbosity.

But if your job isn’t to lead readers by the hand through all the technicalities, what is important to say? How do you determine when to say when with your own description?

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