Life in progress

The Most Important Thing in Fiction


The mark of an excellent novel, in my opinion, is made by how much I fall into the story and its world and how much I care about the characters. There’s really nothing quite like a book that I don’t want to put down. You know the kind – they’re the ones that leave you sad when they end.

I was thinking about the elements that go into such a story and it occurred to me that for me, it’s the author’s ability to leave things out. Description, in too much detail, takes away my need to imagine them. But having said that, it’s only certain things I don’t want described to me.

If a land, for instance, is extremely foreign then I need as much detail as I can get. But certain actions… Take sex scenes for instance. I find them much more erotic if they are sparsely described than if they are laid out like a users’ manual, unless there is something particularly unusual about the scene. Another one for me is the description of characters. Even if someone is described in minute detail, I tend to get my own impression of their appearance and I think a lot of what I imagine has to do with their character itself, for instance whether they are a villain or a lover. It’s like when I talk to someone on the phone on a daily basis – I get an idea of what he or she looks like based on their voice and the way they talk. It’s usually a shock to see what the person actually looks like!

The point is, it’s the lack of description in many cases that makes me think–makes me imagine more–and this is what draws me in. If I’m able to place a modicum of my own experience into a world I’m reading about, it becomes mine. It becomes a place I love to be, populated with people I can truly envision.

What do you like left out of the stories you read? Do you have a favourite thing you like to envision for yourself?

Author: Linda G. Hill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

14 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing in Fiction

  1. I agree completely, Linda. Less is more (particularly with sex scenes!!) πŸ™‚


  2. I think I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating — I hate an overdone setting. Really. Words like opulent, odious, filth, and comfortable will do. I do not want to read paragraphs describing drapes and carpets and pottery, dirty dishes — tattered furniture and broken lamps — unless it’s truly relevant to the story.


    • Right. Unless someone’s going to get plonked over the head with the cast-iron frying pan, leave it out!! Atmosphere is all we need. πŸ™‚
      Thanks very much for your comment, Joey. πŸ™‚


  3. I’m with you, I like the scene to be painted (especially if it’s a fantasy world) but I tend to ignore a lot of character description, filling in what the characters look like in my own mind. Strong characters will defy any physical descriptions (I think) and their personalities will come to define them, rather than the length of their hair and the color of their eyes.


    • It’s true – we all have a pre-made picture in our minds of what a sniveling coward looks like as opposed to a strong hero-type. And who doesn’t want to put the face of someone we adore onto the hero we love in a story?
      Thanks very much for your input. πŸ™‚


  4. I need just enough detail to let my imagination develop the scene, the characters. With too much detail, I find I get bored…there is nothing for my mind to do for itself. The story must allow me to co-create so that it becomes completely real to me and I get lost inside that world, and miss that world and the characters once the story is over.


  5. Characterization is quite important as it shapes their actions and plays a vital part in the story. Also I think the most important par while describing the story is to make sure that you have delivered the meaning behind the story through the plot in such a way that makes your hard work worth it and leaves a good taste in ur mouth. πŸ™‚


    • I agree, characterization is very important. Everything a character does contributes to who they are for the reader, and I don’t believe that’s something that should be skimped on. You’ve made some great points about delivering the meaning through the plot – not necessarily having to describe as long as the core is there. Thanks very much for your input. πŸ™‚


  6. For me, when I review books, 4 and 5 star books are quite similar. However, to get 5 stars, I have to feel something special. I have to be drawn completely into the book and feel for the characters.


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