3. World Building

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Concrete Detail versus Implied Detail
Concrete detail can be extremely important when you're trying to paint a picture. Read this passage from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring:

"The day was drawing to its end, and cold stars were glinting in the sky high above the sunset, when the Company, with all the speed they could, climbed up the slopes and reached the side of the lake. In breadth it looked to be no more than two or three furlongs at the widest point. How far it stretched away southward they could not see in the failing light; but its northern end was no more than half a mile from where they stood, and between the stony ridges that enclosed the valley and the water's edge there was a rim of open ground. They hurried forward, for they had still a mile or two to go before they could reach the point on the far shore that Gandalf was making for, and then he had still to find the doors [of Moria]."

Tolkien makes the landscape so real you can almost feel the rocks beneath your feet. This is not just because he has such wonderful powers of description, but also because he provides concrete details.

That's one approach, and if you're good at writing descriptive scenes, that's a good way to put your skills to work. But here's a different approach — one that suggests rather than spelling out in detail. You might call it the "less is more" style of writing, and it can also be very effective. The author is Robert A. Heinlein, and the description is one simple phrase:

"The door dilated."

In that one phrase, he evokes a powerful sense of the technology of the setting — and how different it is from what we're used to. He has chosen to let the reader's imagination fill in the rest of the detail. But the reason that works so well is that he chose the single phrase so well.

For your own story, you'll need to find a level of detail that feels comfortable to you. Experiment and see what works for your style.


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