There are many people out there that believe in the idea that what you can’t see can be much scarier than what you can see. The idea is that if you ‘see’ the monster you might think “is that it?”, but if there’s a scratching at the door, a pungent odour of rotting flesh, and the knowledge that reading from the skin-bound book you found in the basement will invite demons into your house, your imagination will go into overdrive worrying what’s about to crawl around the corner.
When writing your book it can be tempting to go overboard on descriptions of horrors and monsters, slather on the gross, icky descriptions to make your reader snarl in disgust. But too much information can overwhelm the reader. If you tell them that Jeff went out for a pint, then he got home, then the room span, they he hugged the toilet, then he woke up feeling like death, dry skin, sandpaper tongue, pavement mouth, bloodshot eyes, woozy, shaky legs then reader may start to disagree with certain details…or just lose interest after the seventh chapter detailing how dry the inside of Jeff’s mouth feels.
But by playing it safe (simple) and telling them that the main character is just feeling a little bit worse for wear after a night out then they’ll already know exactly how he feels.
This might differ from your understanding of what Jeff the drunk would feel like, and it will definitely differ from other reader’s interpretations, but that’s a good thing. By reducing the amount of detail you allow the reader to immerse themselves in the story by using their own knowledge and experiences, suddenly the book becomes a lot more realistic. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun when they can partake in the creation of the characters.
But you can also have problems if you skimp on the details; characters may feel too bland, the setting too mediocre. If there aren’t enough details to spark the reader’s imagination then stick figure characters will be spouting dialogue in vast open spaces of nothingness. People like to fill in the blanks, but if there aren’t enough ‘knowns’ in the equation to give them a head start they’re going to get pretty fed up of having to do all the heavy lifting themselves.
Finding the right balance of detail is key in creating a memorable horror novel.
You need to suggest enough that the reader can begin to build a picture of evil but no so much you barge into their head and start force feeding them the story.
When it comes to details, just remember Goldilocks:
This amount of detail is overwhelming, this level of detail is underwhelming…but this amount of detail is juuuuusst right!