Tips for Young Authors #4: The Devil’s in What?

Fourth rendition of the “Tips” articles: this time about details!

Fantasy stories are unique in the world of storytelling. They offer the ability to shape entirely alien worlds in the minds of your audience, and, as such, many an author take extreme care to line their world with details that enrich their story and intrigue their readers.

That being said, this time around, I’m going to advise against including most of these details.

I’ll be plain and simple with this: nobody wants to read your description of your old farming village, or your bustling inn, or your sprawling stone city. It’s been done to death, to the point where the descriptions of locations like these precede the fame of the genre.

You think of fantasy, you think of exactly these settings, and that isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply a product of what the genre entails. You think of an adventure novel, you probably think of wide mountain ranges, tumultuous seas, and endless caverns. You think of a horror novel, you think of decrepit mansions, mist filled graveyards, and shadowy castles.

It’s okay to utilize archetypal settings and details in stories – after all, they fit the archetype for a reason. What isn’t okay is wasting your time describing that same setting for the literal millionth time in your high fantasy story, regardless of just how unique it may be.

Take, for example, The Way of Kings, a fantasy novel written by Brandon Sanderson. In his world of Roshar, there exists many a kingdom, many a castle, home, road, and so on. But these details aren’t what makes his world interesting, and it’s clear he knows this, because it’s very rare he describes any of them in great detail.

What makes his world interesting, and what makes readers more intrigued, is the people of these kingdoms, the reasons for certain things being how they are. Why are all of the buildings in every kingdom built with sturdy walls to the east? Because of weekly hurricanes called highstorms sweeping the land! The people of Thaylenah have massive eyelashes and eyebrows that comb back into their hair. The Herdazians have crystalline fingernails and blue skin. The Parshendi are a bug-like people that can metamorphosize into several different forms to better suit their circumstances!

These are the details that intrigue people, not yet another old farm town, or an ancient fallen kingdom.

Again, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t describe these locations, or include them in your story. Describing your setting, however stereotypical or bland it may be, is infinitely better than no description at all. But don’t focus on these details, because they aren’t what matter. If people see a massive block of text that ultimately amounts to, “It was a small town with friendly people,” they’re not going to want to read your next section about the fact that your world exists on a turtle’s back.

Another aspect to details that prospective authors seem to miss out on: character details.


I repeat.


If you have to waste your time describing how your character styles their hair in the morning, or how they kinda smirk instead of smile, or how they wear one long sock and one short sock, you’re going overboard.

This seems to be an issue that mostly occurs with new writers who haven’t quite gotten to writing their full first draft yet, and it admittedly is an issue I suffer from, occasionally, as well. They’re so eager to show their audience their precious characters, they lose track of the fact that no one wants to be met with excessively long descriptions the moment they open a story.

Here, the issue isn’t so much that details are pointless, as much as it just being not quite the right time for those details. The wonderful part about characters is that they are more involved than settings tend to be, and, as a result, you can typically take your time trickling down the details about them.

In fact, specifically taking your time to steadily drop character details at crucial moments can help to create powerful moments in your story or to gradually develop the characters through subtle details in the background.

The takeaway for this article is this: details are important, but it’s more important to know which details will be interesting and should be focused on and when to drop these details.

Keep this in mind, and you’ll go far.