Monday, June 7, 2021

Details Details Details

I came across a post in one of the book groups I follow, wherein the individual asked if readers preferred books with maps included so they could get a real sense of where the book takes place.  And he wasn't talking about fantasy.  He was asking because the book he's reading is set in Switzerland and he'd like to know the layout of the particular town.

My thought was: NO.  And I expected to see a whole lot of people saying the same.  Wow, was I ever wrong.  

The majority of the comments - 30 when I wrote this - wanted a map of some kind if the book was set in a place they weren't familiar with.  Some also wanted family trees.  Others wanted deeper explanations of food and customs and clothing.

Many of them use Google maps to check out where the story takes place.  And they'd still prefer a map in the book.  Not a detailed one, but one that shows them the key places where the story occurs.

Ummm...  Yah...  I totally don't do this.  As a reader or as a writer.  I fill in the details in my head.  And I had assumed other people do that, too.  Which was rather shortsighted of me.  Oops.  One reader said that's what he does - fill the details in himself.  Another person, a writer, said he never thought about it.  Which is where I was with it.  A third person said she'd only want a map if it was necessary, and I can see that, too, but how do you decide what a reader thinks is necessary?

Personally, I'm not big on details.  I spend a lot of time scanning past the details to get to the plot.  I'm very plot motivated.  So that's the way I write.  I sprinkle in details and descriptions with a very light hand because that's what I want to read.  But I'm weird, I guess.  

Now, this particular group is international, and they're reading widely - stories set in the UK and the European continent, Asia, Australia, etc.  As well as US stories.  So I'm not sure how that translates to readers of US fiction here in the US.  And it's a crime fiction group, so I'm not sure how that effects the answers either.  And maybe the dissenters didn't feel the need to comment because the subject didn't pertain to them.  :shrug:  I'm going to go out on a limb and figure this group was a pretty good slice of readers to poll and they want more detail.

Which means I'm screwed.  Oh, henceforth, I could try to put more details in my novels.  But the sixteen that are already out there are what they are.  And if I suddenly start being all detail-oriented, those older books are going to be weird and set the readers up to expect I don't do details.  Maybe I could slap a sticker on the new books: NOW WITH 42% MORE DETAILS!

I guess I'll just have to be satisfied sitting here and waiting for readers like me to find and enjoy my sparsely detailed books.  

How about you?  Do you prefer loads of details and descriptions?  Or are you like me and insert those yourself as you're reading along?  Can you go either way if the story is good?  Is there hope for me?


  1. Uhm...yes. And no.

    Maps in fantasy are okay. I point to Dragonriders of Pern and LoTR, for instance. I know there are Some other series that have maps but I don't recal them off the top of my head. Contemporary? Not so much. I can hit Google maps if I need points of reference.

    I like detail and I'm probably a little anal about them in my own writing--to the point that I go to Google street views to map out routes and buildings and such so I get the details right. Because that's me. I WANT details to be right, and I want there to be enough of them to give an unfamiliar reader a sense of time/place/etc. That includes all sorts of details, not just places. Those details can be sparse. That doesn't really bother me because, like you, I'll fill in the blanks, but by George they better be correct. This is epsecially true with military settings and police/crime procedurals. I'll DNF a book in a heartbeat that gets it wrong and there are a bunch of best-selling authors who get. It. WRONG! Drives me bonkers.

    Anyway. See? That's why my answer is Yes AND No. I don't mind details, if they're right. If you can't get them right, don't put them in. "You" is generic. YOU, as in one of my fave authors B.E. Sanderson, get your details right and you're sparse so I fill in the blanks. Easy peasy.

    Hey, I've only had one cup of coffee so I can only hope this makes sense. It is now time for my second!

  2. I only glance at maps, though I do like a few details. But not very many! If a writer starts rambling on, I start skimming. And if they ramble on too long (thinking of the writer who spent five pages describing a city block) I never buy their work again. Assuming I can stand to finish the book!

    Please, please, don't add 42% more details! ;-)