Friday, September 07, 2012


Ande Parks (top) and Phil Hester drew
Green Arrow in the early 2000s.
Image attribution.
Something I really dislike when I'm reading/watching/hearing a story is being spoonfed every single detail. There's a difference between describing details that add to the atmosphere and feel of a story and oversharing. Don't tell me that Character X has a problem with Jack Russell terriers because he was attacked by the family pet as a child, show me he has a problem with that breed of dog and let me work it out myself.

One of the things I learned as I gained some skill at being a visual artist was to leave out the unimportant lines that a viewer could imply on his own. Some of my favorite cartooning comes from artists who use as few lines as possible to communicate the fewest possible symbols that my eye will then put together to form a picture.

Maybe you know what I mean, maybe you don't. Take a look at the picture there to the right. Looks like a guy with a mustache and goatee and a domino mask, doesn't it? Notice how much of the head you don't see? And the cap he's got on is only a line or two.

Recently I tried to read a book that is counted as literary science fiction. It was weighty and well-written but it was too much. The author had done such a good job of describing the world that I could see it perfectly. Too perfectly. It was like I was watching a TV show or a movie rather than reading a book. There were a lot of long paragraphs that told me about the characters rather than showing me how they act. Make no mistake that the author also showed me the characters' actions but he took a long time getting there.
In contrast, Neal Adams (a master of
a more 'realistic' style) famously drew
GA in the 1970s. Image attribution.

The book was good; well written and absorbing. I just wasn't in the mood for it. Kudos to the author for daring to be different in a time when a lot of us are writing in a very different, almost populist way. I stopped reading three chapters and about 250 pages in. That was about one-fourth of the way through the story. I liked what I was reading, I just felt bogged down by all the minute details and descriptions he was using.

One of Elmore Leonard's rules of writing is to 'avoid the parts that people skip'. So I use less detail and hope that my stories are a little more interactive, engaging the reader to ask questions of the reasons why characters act the way they do. I like being able to infer things I know about the characters but that the reader doesn't necessarily need to. I want the reader to be able to see himself (or herself, I'm not sexist) in the actions of the characters.

Because that's what I like to read.

There are times when I love a lot of description but I don't want to be talked down to, made to feel like I couldn't possibly understand the author's complex intent without all that description. I admire writers who are good at it (Stephen King, Anne Rice) and can keep the story moving (China Mieville, Michael Moorcock). To me, the most important thing is the story, not the writer's skill at detail.

So even though I enjoy comics and stories that are more 'realistic' by including more and more details, I also enjoy (greatly) the simplicity of just telling the story.

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