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November 11th, 2005, 12:49 PM
I've been working on an sf piece for a few months now and I seem to have diverted into mapping out every possible detail rather than writing the story. Everything from how they fix the spaceship I'm using, to what level they eat their meals on. So I was wondering what people's views were on the level of detail and information they like in an sf piece?

Boll Weevil
November 11th, 2005, 01:09 PM
I guess it's enjoyable to framework and understand your world....But I suspect you are putting off the hard work of actually writing the thing. I do similar things, almost any excuse at times to avoid the writing.

Dive right in, use only details that provide veracity and move the story along.

November 11th, 2005, 01:18 PM
That's definitely a part of it but I'm not sure what level of authenticity if you like, that readers require so I guess my question is aimed more at the reading side - do you want to know how the ship is powered, how the hydroponics bay works, how gravity is maintained or are you happy to accept that there just is gravity on the ship. I'm not too worried about writing it, for a change :D, because I have a plan and a lot to write about but I am concerned that I stage the story in the right environment, if that makes sense.

November 11th, 2005, 01:38 PM
When you wonder if you're putting to much detail, it may be that there is too much detail. Still, you can wait until you have finished the story so you can see if the details are too abundant or not. Anyway, cutting pages of work is often an integral part of revising a story. Even if you cut 20 % of your story during revision because it was just too much, do not think it wasted time. It's more like brainstorming. The deleted two pages description of the ship's kitchen may lead to interesting and vivid details in other parts of you story. You could also work the descriptive part of your story into scenes that add realism and vivacity by charactering characters or by linking unexpected story elements together.

November 11th, 2005, 04:26 PM
I've been working on an sf piece for a few months now and I seem to have diverted into mapping out every possible detail rather than writing the story. Everything from how they fix the spaceship I'm using, to what level they eat their meals on. So I was wondering what people's views were on the level of detail and information they like in an sf piece?

The level of detail necessary/allowed/whatever absolutely depends on the concept of the story:

A standard plot whose main point of interest is the unexpected twist at the end might actually profit from colourful description on all kinds of levels. Since the story itself is nothing to speak of, foregrounding the world is a good way of sustaining interest until the world is more familiar; if you time it right, the minor changes you made should have accumulated at that point, so that the plot takes over.

If you have a very complex plot, you might have point-of-view characters on every "level" (from captain to cook), for maximum effect.

There's no one answer to this. You'll have to determine what's more interesting. The world, or the plot, the characters... A good rule-of-thumb is "foreground the unfimiliar".

November 11th, 2005, 05:13 PM
I understand it's very hard to generalise but I feel I can write the story either way - with lots of detail or straight up, so I wanted to know what people's preferences were when they read sf.

November 11th, 2005, 06:09 PM
The only thing I can possibly add, is that I suspect if you've found yourself "diverted into mapping out every possible detail", then the details were probably more interesting than the story, at that point. On the otherhand, if you've noticed that you're doing that, it might be because the details weren't satisfying in the long run. ;)

If you thought of the question while looking at a writer's guidebook, I'd suggest to burn that book now. :p

If I have no clear preference, is this worth a post, or should I have stayed out of the thread. :confused:

November 11th, 2005, 09:00 PM
LOL no, no writer's book or anything like that - I just find that reading an author like say, Peter Hamilton, I find myself skipping a lot of his detailed descriptions unless they seem totally relevant to the event in the book. It seems like padding yet now I come to write an sf story I'm not sure whether people devour that 'padding' or not, so I was just looking for some opinions.

Retief Grimm
November 11th, 2005, 10:01 PM
Personally, I skip over descriptions as much as possible. I'm fine tuning my first novel and one thing I notice is that it has virtually no description in it. If it's ever published, the reader is going to have use a lot of his own imagination while reading it.

November 11th, 2005, 10:17 PM
Yes, but what if we give you our opinions and they turn out to disagree with the hundreds of sf fans who would be the ultimate audience for your story? I mean, we've got a lot of fantasy writers here and they tend toward detail. :)

You have several basic things to consider:

1) All the mapping you're doing may mean that it's necessary for visualizing the layout in your head. So even if you decide to trim detail later, it might not be a good idea to stopper the flow of information now because you personally need to do it. Sometimes a writer needs to nail down details to figure out how the story works. Sometimes details lead to character development and plot development, or the creation of new characters altogether. For this story, for this writer, you may simply have to be a planner. That's not procastination; it's process. Even if it turns out to be a bit procastination, it may be worth exploring for now.

2) Then there's the role of the info in the story. If your story is about nanotechnology, then a lot of detail about it may be necessary. If your story is about what happens to a culture after nanotechnology, then less information may be needed because it is background material.

3) It is largely a stylistic choice. Which means figuring out what your style is and what style is most effective for you as a writer, because that's what's going to work for more than one book. Different writers have different styles and preferences for amounts of information they convey. They also do it in different ways -- one writer will use a lot of imagery to do it, another will be more straightforward and plain in language, one may use a lot of tech terminology and leave you to figure it out, another may use minimal terminology. Different writers also have different amounts of knowledge about a subject. If you are an engineer, your writing about scientific and engineering details may be different from someone who is into computers or someone who is more of an anthropological bent.

I do prefer more accessible styles. I cannot get through the works of a writer like Greg Egan, for instance, but that's also because I don't like what he does with his characters. I actually think the charts and stuff he throws in are kind of neat, but a lot of the tech stuff is way over my head. But a great many sf fans like it a lot.

What you may want to do is gather several published authors whose work you admire, and whose technical or detailed parts you don't usually skip. Then break them down, down to the exact words they use if necessary, to see how much info they convey and through what methods. That may give you more of a framework for what you want to do.

It also wouldn't hurt, if you can see two paths, if after you do your planning, you try two versions of at least a part of your story -- the detail-full and the stripped down approach -- and see which one works better for you and have a few people test read them to get a sense of possible reactions. But people's reactions do vary so much that they cannot be the only reliable gauge.