Comprehensive and Concise: A Writer’s Struggle
Comprehensive: complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects. “a comprehensive list of sources”
Concise: giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive. “a concise account of the country’s history” (Thank you Google for the definitions)
I’ve said before that all fiction writers are world-builders. Whether it is a contemporary romance or a Sci-Fi fantasy, the writer takes the reader into the characters world. Writers have to consider the locale and ecology, social structure and institutions, personal quirks, and characters backgrounds. It ends up being a lot of information. The trick is to make the process comprehensive and concise at the same time.
An example: Your character’s clothing is distinctive…say Japanese, to pick one. You want to make sure the reader knows she is dressed in traditional garb vs more modern. Now, there are a lot of pieces to the female traditional garb but the average reader recognizes two, maybe three: kimono, obi, and tabi socks. All the rest tend to blur together so, if you mention enough details to trigger an image in the reader’s mind, you have a comprehensive image with a concise description.
We all are familiar with the sweeping epic novels where locale, be it a house or a landscape, is described in excruciating detail. In many cases it is because those surroundings are integral aspects of the story, maybe even a character unto itself.
In the book, Hawaii, James Michener described in comprehensive detail the lush tropical island and its people. It was vital to know these details so that the reader saw the changes over time as fortune seekers and evangelists set to work to ‘civilize’ the paradise. There wasn’t a whole lot of ‘concise’ in the mammoth book but it did paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. Michener is known for the detail and immensity of his works.
Then there are the authors that load up the story with so much detail that the story gets lost. These are the books that you get fifty pages in and give up. It is destined to gather dust on the bookshelf.
I know one author that describes the articles of clothing her characters wear and their sexcapades so much that the plot is secondary and can be summed up nicely in a one page synopsis. For most readers, that gets boring. We want more…and less.
Most of us don’t need to go into such detail to get our image across. A vampire summons up images of darkness and lots of black, white, and red. If your vampire is different (a broken fang, green eyes, suntanned) then you will need to describe those attributes. Otherwise, give a sketch of the essential setting even if it is familiar. Concentrate on the things that make it different.
A boy and his grandpa are sitting on a dock and fishing. We have a mental image immediately. Now focus on the details that are important. Is the sky cloudy making the lake dark and still? Are they using old cane poles with red and white bobbers or shiny new rods and reels?
Can you weave the clothing description in with the action? Grandpa took off his glasses and put them in the pocket of his flannel shirt. Use your imagination to integrate details into the storyline without overwhelming it.
Comprehensive but concise. Paint a complete picture using broad strokes for the background and focus on the details that make it unique. Your readers will appreciate the effort.