How much detail in a novel is too much? Specifically how much are you willing to learn about—let’s say—running a hardware store. What if the information about screws and drills and rakes is pertinent to the story or creates the atmosphere that makes the story go?
I am wrestling with this now. In short stories, it was pretty easy—just a sentence or two was all I had space for. But now I can tell you lots and lots about hardware stores. I studied up on them and there is a case for putting a lot of this in the novel. It will reek of wood and metal and fertilizer if I do. And jeez, I did spend months learning about how they do the inventory and what kind of thins customers say when they come in.

I know it depends on how interesting it is and how it adds to the story but do you usually want to get back to the action? Do you usually say, “All right already with how bolts work? Give me a murder about now.

Save me from drowning in my details before it’s too late. See, even here there is too much detail.

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I share your pain. I write gardening mysteries and have the same concerns..everyone once in a while I think "lighten up on the lysimachia." I'd say be accurate with whatever you do include, but if you've got more than one or two paragraphs in a row about wingnuts you might want to rethink... even Dorothy Sayers' bellringing (in Nine Tailors) - which I loved learning about early in the book - got to me after a while, and I blew by some of the details of treble bob whatever...Good luck!
Elmore Leonard's tenth rule: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Simple, right?

Of course, what part that is brings us back to your question. Personally, I'd err on the side of brevity. With all your research, you might find wingnuts and screwy doodads fascinating. I'm not so sure too many others would share this outlook. Of course, I have the attention span of a mayfly, so your mileage on this may vary.
I'm a big believer in the "chocolate chip" theory, with facts about Nitrox diving, arachnid anatomy, or ponygirl fetish being the chocolate and the story being the cookie. No one wants a cookie with a whole chocolate bar stuffed into one side and none at all on the other. The chocolate should be in small doses, evenly spread through each bite. If a person wants a chocolate bar (non-fiction) they'll buy a chocolate bar instead of a chocolate chip cookie.
The kind of details we give in a novel may not be inherently interesting apart from how a character cares about those details. In other words, I might not really care about mechanical minutia of a hardware store. BUT if a character in the story really gets off on the metal and wood and chemical treasures there at the store, I get interested in it. As authors, we sometimes get the chance to build interest in the story and show something about our characters by presenting (but not overdoing) the details they love.
Hi Amra
Have you tried Peter Temple? His 'diversions' are mini novels in themselves. He's also amazing in the way he can have more things happening - ie plot -in a sentence than most of the rest of us can fit into a whole book - a characteristic he shares with (apropos of nothing) Patrick White. Best wishes

I think it depends on genre. If you're writing contemporary fiction in a setting your audience will recognise - basically, mainstreet America - you don't need anything except what's required to drive the plot, flesh out characters, or give credibility (eg. to a conspiracy theory or the means of killing). Elmore is, as always, right on the button.

BUT ...

Sometimes the details can be the whole book. I would contend, for example, that the line-by-line writing of Da Vinci Code is utter sh*te (as we Brits say). I also think Brown's handling of characters, action sequences, in fact just about everything is pretty third-rate. But even tho' I knew that the whole family-of-Christ stuff had been rehashed from Holy Blood and Holy Grail and even tho' I knew that the Priory of Sion was a celebrated hoax, not a genuine organisation, I was till riveted by the way Brown built up this web of crazy details that were really fascinating in themselves (the iconography of The Little Mermaid??!!) but also built into a whole construction that made one suspend disbelief. Without all that detail, there would have been no book and certainly no phenomenon.

Also, I'd make an exception for anything set in a very different time or place. The Janissary Tree, for example, which won The Edgar for best novel this year, is a brilliant evocation of 19th century Istanbul. The sensory details of look, smell, sound and feel really make the location come alive, and the information detail about the way that the Ottoman Empire was structured and run is both fascinating and essential to the story. Reading the book becomes a real pleasure, a journey that is far richer than your average thriller. In that case, the detyail takes an already fine piece of writing and makes it truly great.
This is kind of what I was hoping to hear because I think the details are a lot of if not the whole book. (It's not really about a hardware store) although they are certainly not as riveting as either of these books. I think the details are a secondary character almost in the book. (Or potential book). Sorry to go on about myself but I've reached a point where this needs to be decided so I don't have to rewrite the whole thing.
Without readiung your book it's hard to give specific advice, but I would ask this .. will the reader be entertained by the details in themselves? Are they interesting, unusual, telling us something new? If so, great. If not, ask yourself, how much do I really need them?
Yes, I agree Tom. And I think as ever, if it's a good writer, then you are prepared to put up with a hell of a lot (whether it's esoteric interest/gore/body count).
The devil really is in the details, ain't he? Here's the thing. Just 'cause you know tons and tons about different kinds of screws and bolts and stuff doesn't mean that your reader wants to. Or even needs to.

There are ways to work this in (I really liked Christa's choc. chip cookie analogy) without overwhelming, or worse, boring, your reader. Sometimes a character (human) can go on and on about stuff and it can be really revealing about the character while explaining/exploring minutiae. But if it's minutiae simply for coolness' sake...well that's a lot harder to pull off.

When a location works well as a character, it doesn't stand up and yell "hey! look at me! I'm so freakin' fascinating, ya won't believe it!" And if it did, it would be more than a little disconcerting. Tell your story and let the details of the hardware store breathe through it.

Actually, it's your story. If you're digging it, then just tell it however the hell you want. The stuff above is just how I'd do it. but if you're passionate about something, then I'd advocate going for it.


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