How does one’s personality affect setting and detail contained in his fiction?

If you read my prior article, Feeling the arpeggio resonate in your chest, you’ll recall I described feeling let down from what I perceived to be lack of detail contained within a contemporary work of fiction I was reading at the time.  This got me thinking:  How does one’s personality affect setting and detail contained in his fiction?

Without diving into a detailed analysis of type theory, let’s just say I consider myself to be a detail-oriented person.  I’m the type of person who maintains meticulous auto repair records; I record water quality readings of my two freshwater aquariums on a weekly basis; I even visually inspect by eye for level, square-ness, and symmetry of buildings and homes whenever I enter them.

As I paused to ponder my own personality traits, I realize they play a significant role in the setting and detail contained within my fiction.  If I bring my reader into a house built in the 1920s, I’m going to describe how the wood-trim moulding is large, ornate, and covered in six-coats of lead-based paint.  But is that level of detail really important to readers?

For some readers, I suspect plot is of key concern and the little details don’t matter.  I was one of those readers in high-school literature classes.  I wanted enough detail to answer the questions on the test, but wasn’t interested in reading a story for entertainment when I had three more hours of additional homework to finish that night.

As an adult, I now read for entertainment and knowledge and therefore want to be surprised by the little details contained in the story.  If the fiction I’m reading is following a motley crew of pirates in search of hidden treasure, then I want to learn a little bit about the interior construction and layout of their Schooner vessel in addition to simply reading the character development.

Now acknowledging different types of readers and writers in the world, I’m starting to understand why some stories become instant classics while others only ever entertain a limited audience.


6 thoughts on “How does one’s personality affect setting and detail contained in his fiction?

  1. We all bring our own personality to what we write. It’s seemingly impossible not to. As such, the reader, too, filters what they read through their self, their personality, you can say, to make the story, your story, their own. What’s interesting about how the author’s personality affects the details they include is that you can place a number of these authors on a continuum that are spare with details on one end (some minimalists, Carver, for example) and others that are thick with them on the other end (say, Robbe-Grillet, who would repeat seemingly mundane, though necessary, details to create dry, though informative) and see that approaches can work (and do.) The important thing is that however you detail your story you ought to be sure that what you include moves things forward.

  2. I love the minutiae, it is the frame around the picture.

  3. Not sure I can even define my personality. I leave that to those who know me, even those who would simply dismiss me. What I can say is that there are multiple aspects to my personality. Whether or not I’m revealed in my writing, again, a possible suspect, but someone else will have to tell me. I write what interests me and I research details that contribute to the story line. Some of that research remains as contributive to the plot or atmosphere, other is deleted as inconsequential. Many people have told me they are disappointed in a book if they haven’t learned something new. I’m not always sure what they mean.

    • I always thought that something is artful if it doesn’t merely depict the subject it’s focused on but, more, transcends it. Things are reinvented and when art makes something anew we are become informed, erudite, maybe. Perhaps that’s what’s meant about wanting to learn something. I hope that I come away from a book, a poem, a painting wiser, learned.

      • I agree with you, Ron. A unique view of familiar material will inform and excite me. I’m just not always sure what other people mean by the comment. I’ve read reviews of books I’ve appreciated and wondered what book by the same title the reviewer read. But I read slowly, I want to savor the words and the experience.

        I’m afraid I’ve gotten us off track from the intent of Matt’s post.

  4. He’s prompted good discussion! He must be happy with that.

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