Examining the Odd are pleased to share this guest post from Sam B Miller II.
The Imagination of the Reader
How much should an author leave to the imagination of the reader?
Some readers want detail such as ‘The rectangular dining room was lit by a small chandelier centered in a high ceiling over a long table covered with a stained tablecloth. The four high-backed, cushioned chairs were mismatched and more suitable for a casual kitchen. Sunlight from eastern facing windows was muted by faded gold-colored drapes.’ Other readers like little detail. They fill in the missing descriptions with their mind such as ‘The dining room was crowded with a table and four chairs.’
Of course there is an in-between but which approach is favored?
My stories have tried both ways of writing scene details. In the 3-book science fiction series, ‘The Origin of F.O.R.C.E.’, I provided detail of the characters. Height, weight, hair color, eyes, type of glasses, clean- shaven, clothing and disposition were all described. I controlled how the reader visualized my characters and even had characters drawn by professional artists based upon those descriptions. Many people said the descriptions brought the characters to life. Others said the detail bogged down the story.
My fourth story, ‘Smith’, is a paranormal/supernatural tale written in a completely different way. The reader knows who is male, female or inhuman, but the character’s appearance is completely up to the reader. Ethnicity, hair-color, height and other identifiers are left to the reader’s imagination. Descriptions of buildings, rooms, army bases, hospital rooms, and hidden bunkers are minimal as well, leaving the readers to picture scenes as they wish to interpret them. I suppose I would name the technique ‘World-building in the reader’s mind’.
To my surprise, readers have discussed certain scenes in my book in ways I never thought possible.
The new writing style resulted in a crisp read while at the same time reducing the word count to the point the story became a Novella rather than a Novel. I would appreciate your opinion. Which writing style do you prefer? I am in the process of writing my next novel and am anxious to know which writing style is preferred.