Description v Dialog and How Much of the World to Show

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Today I want to talk about two different but related subjects. The balance of description v dialog in a book, and how much of the world in a sci fi novel to show.

This is on my mind because of work I’m doing for the second edit of Oranje. One of the issues my editor brought up after their first pass on the book was the amount of dialog in the book compared to the amount of description/action.

Now, I need to say I don’t like books with excessive amounts of description. It’s one of the things that put me off the Game of Throne books after reading a few of them. A lot of my time felt like it was spent reading endless descriptions of clothing or feasts instead of progressing the story, and these are big books. Science fiction as well tends to have an aspect of ‘look at this immensely detailed world I’ve created!’ to a lot of stories, and the description of even little minute detail slow down the story and make it drag.

I much prefer a lighter approach to description, books where this is sprinkled throughout the length of them, giving little glimpses of the larger world behind the story.

On the other hand a sense of wonder is important for science fiction. Some of my favourite sci-fi stories helped draw me into feeling I was in a different and interesting world. There is a balance that needs to be achieved.

For the first edit I’d say I got it wrong. There is too much dialog, and not enough description of the world to allow readers to build a coherent view of the setting. There’s also not enough description of what people are doing during conversations, making it harder to pick up how characters are feeling as well.

They key is trying to get the feel right, enough description and action to draw a reader in, give them enough of a glimpse of the world for them to be able to fill in the rest of the detail. But not too much that it gets in the way of the story, and end up with a book of unnecessary details.

It’s going to be interesting to see where Oranje ends up on that scale, and how closely I get to what I’m aiming to do.