Extent of accuracy

Question: Is it better to tell the EXACT height and weight or should I just state roughly?


Answer: I think it depends on your narrator.

If you are writing in first person or third person limited, you have to consider what details your character is likely to notice or have in mind.

Everyone has a different set of knowledge and interests.

For instance, a character who is an engineer or architect or surveyor will likely include more precise technical details about buildings.

A psychologist, on the other hand, might notice the personality quirks of the people he encounters. A doctor might be more alert to someone's medical condition. The vocabulary a character uses shows what subjects he knows more about.

One narrator might habitually look at strangers and estimate their height and weight (perhaps a police officer trained in observation). A child narrator, on the other hand, might just describe people as tall, short, fat, or thin. A main character who is obsessed body image might pay closer attention to other people's physical deficiencies than someone else.

The other thing to consider is your genre. In historical fiction, details of the time and place matter because your reader wants to learn about that period (for instance, were people in a certain era short because their diets were poor?). Fantasy readers like details about fantasy characters. Science fiction readers are interested in the possibilities science offers (e.g. biotechnology). Thriller readers enjoy learning the technical aspects of the main character's profession, whether law, medicine, espionage, etc.

You have to ask yourself what details feel right for the story you are telling and convey a sense of the characters.

Comments for Extent of accuracy

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Jun 19, 2016
Believable environment
by: Elliot

That's clear, but i also have an additional question. I'm facing difficulties in making the environment seem so real, I don't know if this has to do with being precise or not. For example if I'm talking about a straight tired road with withering trees and some shop stores at the end, how can I make that seem real?. Please pardon my English I'm still learning, thanks.

Jun 21, 2016
re: setting
by: Glen

Again, the details you put into settings can depend on what your narrator finds important. Each writer has their own style as well.

What you should look for are the telling details that create the right emotional response for your story. Some stories depend a lot on setting to create that emotional response via atmosphere. Other stories depend more on character or action to create emotion.

It does help to address as many senses as possible in your description -- not just sight but also sound, smell, and if possible texture and taste. Just like a person's senses provoke emotional responses in real life, descriptions of sensory details can provoke emotion in the reader's mind.

Specificity helps as well. Generally, the more specific your details, the more vivid the description and the more intense the emotional response.

Unfortunately, getting good at description takes practice and sometimes paying close attention when reading to how other authors approach this issue.

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