Way Too Much Setting Detail



I recently read a published novel that involved a lot of setting detail.


As in an enormous amount of setting detail.


As in way too much setting detail.



I won’t mention the novel’s name or its author so as not to embarrass anyone. But they both still do serve as cautionary tales of what not to do. Consider the revised snippet below as proof:


The pool table room was about 10,000 square feet across, with ten standard-sized pool tables lined up in two rows of five up and down its length. For the competition, someone or someones had lined up folding chairs and set them up all around the room so that there were approximately twenty chairs available per table for spectators to observe their chosen game at any point in the tournament. The chairs were colored somewhere between grey and brown, and made out of metal, with tannish-brown cushions made out of a material that seemed like it would fit in just as well in the seventies or eighties or nineties as in the present day. Behind those chairs were the walls, which were an austere tan from floor to ceiling. The floor was a darker brown and made out of linoleum.

I say this with the utmost respect and compassion, but that description needs some work.

Again, that wasn’t the actual example. To be honest, I changed everything about it except for the style and attention to detail.


So. Much. Detail.


It’s not necessary, at all.


In this authors defense, every creative writer struggles with some aspect of writing. Maybe it’s over-emphasizing character details. Maybe it’s under-emphasizing it.


I know I hate composing endings. Others struggle with beginnings.


He might be really bad at incorporating believable dialogue. She might be really bad at managing her subplots.


Every creative writer has something that doesn’t come naturally. That’s fine and normal and understandable. In fact, recognizing that failing – whatever it is – is a great tool to keep us humble, which is extremely important from a personal growth standpoint…


And also from an artistic standpoint. Otherwise, we think our works are perfectly fine as-is and publish them with paragraphs like the one above.

Here’s the thing about setting. Or plot. Or subplots. Or characterization. Or dialogue. Or beginnings. Or endings.


It’s all supposed to serve a purpose. And that purpose is to push the story along, either by introducing something important or reiterating something important.


According to that logic then, if it isn’t important, it shouldn’t be in there. No pointless filler stuff allowed. (Or at least very, very, very little of it.)


In the case of the paragraph we introduced before, that would more than likely mean getting rid of:


  • The exact square footage

  • The mention of who did the setting up

  • The color of the chairs

  • The material of the chairs

  • The decade the chairs could fit into.


The author had the right idea to paint a good picture of the environment the main character is walking into. He just took it too far, thinking that book readers need to have the same view as movie watchers.


They don’t though. They just need enough of a view.


While “enough” is very subjective, I know, consider it this way: Creative writers should offer setting details that establish an environment’s physical, emotional, spiritual and/or psychological elements that the characters will actively interact with.


Anything else can go.

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