Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 2, 2019

3 Needs to Decide How Much Description to Use

How much description and other information do we need to put into any given scene? Too much and it becomes a sleep-inducing info dump. Too little and the reader is lost and confused. So how do we find that perfect balance? How do we know what to put in when?

In a discussion at the Liars Club’s Willow Grove Coffeehouse yesterday, we discussed this very topic. The answer lies in three Needs that converge at the point of perfect balance.

  • Needs of the genre
  • Needs of the reader
  • Needs of the Point of View (POV) character

Needs of the Genre

Every genre comes with content expectations. While a Tom Clancy espionage-thriller is expected to be heavy on technical details, a romance is not. And while romance carries an expectation of a happily ever after, many horror stories do not. Knowing what your genre expects can help guide you as to how much description and/or backstory to put in.

Needs of the Reader

Knowing when to place the information is as important as how much information to release. A guiding principal is to insert just enough information so the reader is not confused. Ask yourself: what does the reader need to know right now to understand what is going on? Then give the reader just that much. By parceling out only what the reader needs to know at the moment they need to know it, you can increase your suspense factor and keep readers turning pages.

Needs of the POV Character

The final piece of the puzzle is your POV character. Your POV character is only going to notice things that are either unusual or meaningful. So stopping the forward momentum of the story to describe every detail of a room when the POV character enters is unnecessary. Decide what that character, given her frame of mind at that moment, would note about the room, and describe only that. Likewise, there is no need to say anything beyond, “She grabbed a cup of coffee on her way out the door” unless when she sips the coffee she finds she put in salt instead of sugar. Then it becomes important enough to note, because it forces her to make a decision: Dump the coffee and do without? Go back inside for a new cup and maybe be late for work? Or drink the salty coffee because what the heck it still has caffeine? Her decision will help define character and may also advance the plot if the change in her routine then puts her in a place she normally wouldn’t be.

So let those three Needs guide how much information to put into a scene: Does the genre need this level of detail? Do the readers need to know this now to understand? Does the POV character need to note this detail for any character or plot reason?

Do you have any further suggestions for finding that information/detail balance?


  1. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog.


  2. Reblogged this on Writing for the Whole Darn Universe.

    Liked by 1 person

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