author C.C.Cole's blog

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On All Those Details

"Game of Thrones"

As I read great books by famous bestselling authors, one consistency that I often see is the huge detail these writers put into their stories.  I don’t find these details always additive; and sometimes I’m remembering who ate what when I’d prefer to know a side story about an ancient war.  I’ll admit details and side stories are not places I like getting bogged down in; often I’ll skim and move on to the main plot in many books.

My first example is the 1970s hit novel “Jaws” by Peter Benchley.  I read an excerpt in a magazine before the film came out.  My brother was interested so he purchased the paperback from a consignment store, so naturally I read it after he did.  As a preteen I recognized though I couldn’t process the vulgar language or adult scenes.  But when I put the book down asked my Mom, “Why did Hooper have an affair with the cop’s wife?  Is that going to be in the move?”  Not a Kodak family moment.

Another example is “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, which I reviewed on this blog, and compared it to “Revolutionary Road,” masterpiece by Richard Yates.  While the media hype of “Freedom” and the author ensured me he stood out as a writer because he is one of the writers that “knows how to write” (wow!).  The part about a guy reaching into a recently used toilet to find an engagement ring to give to his true love didn’t make me swoon for my Prince Charming.  I know, some would say look what he was willing to do, I get it, but why couldn’t the writer have him climb a skyscraper or something?  I’ll agree with Franzen, he can write, he succeeded at nauseating me.

If any series of books contains over-the-top details, I’d say George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (books “Game of Thrones” series is based on) takes all of the lemon cakes.  We’re sure of Sansa’s favorite dessert, we know about Cersei’s wonderful stuffed swan dinner, several times how sucking pigs are a delicacy, and Illyrio in Pentos having dinner picking up a mushrooms swirling in butter then licking his fingers.  Other details include Lancel’s pumping, Cersei’s finger licking (It’s not food, read the books if you’re curious), her gowns more elaborate than in the series, often white and studded with emeralds, and each change description every day. (I liked her wardrobe). 

So this brings me back to the point:  How much in the way of “little details” are required in a story?  Answer:  I won’t touch that.  I know details add depth to create the world for the reader, to actually experience the world instead of words on paper.  But is there such thing as too many details?  Answer:  The readers always decide.


  1. I feel you have a similar attitude towards all this as me.... when I see a long descriptive passage, I skip it. If I try to read it, the words don't go in. If the story works for me I've already pictured the characters' faces, the rooms. I remember when the cast for series 2 of GOT was announced. Many of my GOT loving friends agreed with me that most of the characters were perfectly cast, just as they imagined them, too - so I'm guessing GRRM gets it right - but I still don't read the long, descriptive passages! I don't write them, either. I'll give a brief description, but I'd rather give more detail about what a character is thinking, than what they're wearing.

  2. Thanks for commenting Terry! As a GRRM addict/scholar, I get sooo bogged down in his details I'm in a swamp sometimes. But in the first three books he definitely delivers. Appreciate the stop by!

  3. If it's written well and germane to the story, I read it and enjoy it.