[Tipster] Don't Burden Your Reader with Too Many Details

tipster post Apr 29, 2022

Have you ever read a story in which the writer slows you down with two many details?

This is easy to do when we write stories.

One of the most elemental pieces of writing advice is this: Be specific.

This is one of the first and early lessons that we learn when we begin to write.

The problem, however, is when we think that "being specific" means adding in lots of detail.

In his book "The Elements of Story," Francis Flaherty writes:

"A writer must be a sensitive gatekeeper, for every tidbit that she puts into the story is a burden on the reader."

Wait, what?

Details can be a burden to the reader?

I thought I was supposed to be more specific in my writing!

Instead of "red pick up truck," I thought I should write, "It was a cherry red four-door 2017 Ford F150 with oversized black walled tires and tinted windows."


"Red pick up truck" might be sufficient. It just depends on what the reader needs to know.

Skinny Librarians and Oversized Books

Flaherty gives us a fresh analogy when making his point about too many details.

He says that "every name, fact, detail, title, date, and source" that you insert into your story is "another item plopped into the reader's arms."

And this is the great line:

"And if there are too many, the reader will be staggering about, like a skinny librarian with a stack of oversized books."

Bury Your Sources or at Least Trim Them

One "too many details" mistake is to put all your research sources on the surface of your writing.

Flaherty uses this example: "the Tuscaloosa office of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel" gives too many details.

You could write it as "Alabama tourism officials."

Three words vs. eleven words.

Three words is better.

Or you could use a footnote or end note, if you are writing a book chapter.

Simply bury the details altogether.

In short, omit needless details whenever you can.

Two Ways to Shorten

Flaherty also says that there are two ways to shorten your sentences. And thus free your reader from the burden of too many details:

1. Leave stuff out; and

2. Leave something in, but in a simplified, reduced form.

Here are two final questions:

*  What does your reader really need to know?

* How can you paint a vivid scene without slowing down your reader?