It’s a question that arises often, at least for me.
I bet you could name an author who gives a lot of detail in their story telling — Clive Cussler comes to mind — a well as one who doesn’t. I brought a story to my writing group and received the suggestion that I be more detailed in the character’s movements. The scene is one where the main character is picking up broken glass from the kitchen floor and cuts her foot. The group member who made the aforementioned suggestion wanted to see the character take a step before mentioning she had cut her foot.
It’s tough to walk the ditch between too much detail and not enough. As with most things in art, it’s subjective. I remember a scene in Wylie Cash’s first book, A Land More kind Than Home, where the young boy at the center of the novel makes a peanut butter sandwich. The boy is grieving, traumatized, and caught in a confusing position. Cash goes into great detail on the boy making the sandwich: spreading the peanut butter, the jelly, etc. I thought it was a wonderful way to show the boy’s angst. The intense detail on the action gave poignancy to the small act. My good friend, a prolific reader, thought it was too much.
And so it goes.
A writer’s style is made up of small decisions. I think one of them is this question of detail. I tend toward the sparse, believing the reader will be able to fill in the gaps. Writing the sentence “She got into the car and drove off,” is not very evocative, but “she opened the car door, sat down in the driver’s seat, closed the car door and inserted the key, turning it to the right to start the engine then depressed the accelerator while shifting into reverse” and on and on would be way too much. However, if I were to write, “She got into the car, closing the door on her skirt” would that be enough for the reader to know she was in a hurry? Would I have to add, “in her haste”?
If my character is picking glass off the floor and cuts her foot, do I need to say where exactly she stepped on the shard? I don’t know. Maybe. I am rewriting the story and will look carefully at my absence of detail.
In the meantime, what do you think? What writers do you love to read that do one or the other. I’ll sit here and pick my nose while you think.