My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

How Much is Too Much?

Being a huge historical fiction fan as well as a writer in this genre, I’ve often wondered: when does the detail become too much?

I know as a writer I often go between the two extremes, either putting way too much detail in and diverting from the story, or not putting enough in and making the setting non-existent.

I’ve recently been reading two historicals (both which I’ll review here when I’m done, so you’ll just have to guess for now :P) and both have so much detail in them that I’m sometimes overwhelmed. Both also take place in different cultures and also employ foreign words a great deal. One of the books has a glossary in the back, while the other doesn’t and sometimes makes it hard to figure out.

When I’m writing my Japanese historical novel, I often have to find a way to describe whatever foreign word I’m using to make sure the reader doesn’t get lost. I know my critique group has gotten me on some instances when I don’t give the context of what it means in the following sentences. At the same time you don’t want to make it too obvious because it can throw the reader out of the story too. It’s a precarious position 🙂

The best thing we can do as a historical writer–or any writer really–is just keep practicing–and reading other novels–to see how other authors craft their stories and to either follow their example or avoid any pitfalls they may make.


Comments on: "How Much is Too Much?" (7)

  1. […] How Much is Too Much? ( […]

  2. Truthfully, when I read a story, I’m likely to skip over a lot of the setting details. I read just enough to give me a vague understanding of where characters are at and leave it at that. (Shouldn’t surprise you considering how I also don’t pay attention to my surroundings in real life…)

    That said, I also know that my writing severely lacks setting details. If you ask yourself when detail becomes too much, I ask myself how little I can get away with. It’s an odd sort of problem to have, especially as a fantasy writer. 😛

    Like you said, the best way to figure out the proper amount is probably just through practice and observation.

  3. I think it’s a fine balancing act, but I’d lean on the side of more story. I’ve read a few historical fictions where the author put in so much detail that it detracted from the story and I started to skim.

  4. This a great question. I’ve written a couple historical novels, currently revising one, and I usually am the writer who doesn’t give enough. I always have to go back and flesh it out.

  5. I’ve asked the same exact question to myself while writing. But where I have the most trouble is with how much is too much when it comes to dialogue.

    Funny thing was, I was going to write a post about this question sometime next week too.

  6. I actually just posted about the problem of adding foreign words to dialogue!

    And finding the right balance of details in a historical novel it tricky too. I really like a lot of historical context, though, such as in “The Historian” and “The Great Train Robbery.” Two books that almost go overboard in historical details but manage to pull it off well.

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