puzzle-63626_640The tyranny of explanations! Maybe it’s too strong a word, but have you ever read a character description in a novel and found it to be so detailed that nothing, absolutely nothing has been left to the imagination. It happened to me the other day and I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated. I have a feeling that some of the most powerful characterizations are often found in a few well chosen words with the rest being left to the mind’s eye.

That said, certain forms of detailed explanation are important and even necessary, especially in the case of concepts not easily conveyed and understood, but danger always lurks in overkill. Too much explanation, especially in areas of life where it is not called for, has something of the dictatorial about it. It tends to dry up mystery, it encapsulates and constricts flexibility of meaning, and it’s certainly no respecter of the imaginative power, space and intelligence of the other.

I think the dictum, “be sparing in your explanations” is a good one. Not easy though; something in us always wants to explain.


About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
This entry was posted in Discernment, imagination, inspiration, Poetic Imagination, Spirituality, wisdom and insight and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Explanations

  1. Wow, yes, Don! You explained it so well and the post is accurate length. But seriously, I absolutely agree.


  2. katy says:

    I think I might have to plead guilty to this one Don. I like words and I like details and lots of them!


    • Don says:

      Katy, you don’t have to plead guilty. Would hate you to feel that way. I think it has a lot to do with our dispositions. Some of us do like details more than others. I just think that we can sometimes get so tied up in the the explanations that we don’t think it through for ourselves. Explanations kind of come at us as if they are the last words on whatever the issue, and we often accept them as that.


  3. sefeniak says:

    For me, to put it simply, some things should be left to the imagination.


  4. josna says:

    Spot-on! Very wise, Don, and always a challenge for me. I’m so opinionated that I don’t want to leave the interpretation open, in case someone else comes up with one that’s different from mine! So I would add that, since it is bound to be subjective, explanation always involves some interpretation Another reason for keeping it to a minimum.


  5. I couldn’t agree more, Don. When I write, I always want to challenge the reader to bring his/her personal experience to the story. TME robs them of the opportunity.


  6. Dani Lynn says:

    I’m really thinking about what you said and I do think you’re right. Good timing too because I’m working on a project now that involves describing a number of characters so I’ll remember this. šŸ™‚


  7. nrhatch says:

    Yes! Sometimes a skeletal outline or a quick sketch connects us to the story or character faster than too many extraneous details.


    • Don says:

      I agree Nancy. It certainly does that for me. Thank you.


      • nrhatch says:

        I’m reading a book by Tim Dorsey. In a single paragraph, he describes 7 characters using just brief sketches:

        Major Fletcher ~ steady leader with blond hair, a close share, and a square dependable jaw
        Lee Barnes ~ a crusty and foul-mouthed veteran with hangover stubble and a footlocker of vintage Playboys
        Milton “Bananas” Foster ~ a highly excitable yet gifted mechanical wizard
        Marilyn Sebastian ~ a plucky aerial reconnaissance officer, as tough as any man, but every bit a woman
        Pepe Miguelito ~ a forlorn youth with pencil mustaches and unending girl troubles
        “Tiny” Baxter ~ a massive country boy from Oklahoma with simple but strong values
        William Honeycutt ~ a former bantamweight champion

        Enough to bring them to life without beating them to death.


      • Don says:

        Brilliant Nancy. Ample space to create your own pictures of them, and that’s precisely what happens to me when I read those descriptions. Wonderful stuff. Thank you.


  8. Lorem Ipsum says:

    It’s funny, Don. But I think your gravatar image is a prime example of what you’re saying in this post. When I look at the image, it calls to mind the kind of person “I imagine” you might be. Without over-stretching the point, I’m guessing you’re a well-travelled man. True?


  9. There are writers and authors who create with omission. It’s in that space that I (and other readers) fill in the details… to our liking. I love simplicity and nuance; both stimulate my right brain. If, when writing, I could only acquire the gift of succincticity. (I know šŸ™‚ ).


    • Don says:

      Thanks Eric.What a marvellous phrase – “create with omission.” I really like that. I go with you on simplicity. I think sometimes we make things far too complex.


  10. ladyfi says:

    I agree. I tend not to like lengthy and detailed descriptions as I’d rather use my imagination.


  11. lolarugula says:

    Some things are definitely better left to the imagination, which is much more powerful than words will ever be. Great post.


  12. Mystique is good, Don! We all like surprises… unwrapped gifts don’t compare.

    Blessings ~ Wendy


  13. Hudson Howl says:

    A rationale argument for being irrational, more or less, Don.

    To tell you the truth, I’d rather be misunderstood and labeled different, then understood and labeled ‘akin’.


  14. ptero9 says:

    I cannot recall who, but I think it was another writer who said that the etymology of “explain” means to flatten. Maybe that is what is so urksome about too much explanation?
    Images bring life I think, without explaining but through showing, through the phenomena itself. It’s a hard practice not to resort to concepts about people and things, but a worthy one, I think.
    One of my favorite characters is MadMen’s Don Draper. Much of his character’s story has been shown through images of his past and present with very little analysing. Don Draper is full of mystery, even to himself and yet I feel like I can know him through his story better than if the show had him talking to a therapist or telling about his past to the other characters. But once you have seen those images of his past, when he speaks you understand his perspective as being formed through the images of where he came from.
    Thanks for this great post Don!


  15. Kathy Snay says:

    Hi Don, I haven’t been working on NatureOnNotice much of late…just getting back. Was so glad to see your ‘like’ and your page looks a bit different..very nice. This blog entry if very profound and I am guilty of over explaining way too much. Re: “Too much explanation, especially in areas of life where it is not called for, has something of the dictatorial about it.” For sure and sometimes I think people on Twitter and in blogs preach..instead of sharing. Have a great day. Kathy


  16. Pingback: Breathing Life Into Characters | Spirit Lights The Way

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