Attention to Detail

My time in Japan began with me noticing everything around me.  But after a few months, these details were completely skipped over by my eyes and my brain.  I was in a haze the entire time, unable to really see what I was looking at.  Then I started to seriously take pictures more than 4 years ago, and I regained that attention to detail.  I find that I still look around at everything.  Tonight, as I was walking from the station, I walked along a riverside path under the cherry trees.  Although it was dark, I could still make out the changing colours of the leaves, still mostly green, but many turning red.  It had me thinking about what I could see.  I saw the leaves, the branches, the trunks, and then the entire structure of the trees.  I was seeing the lamps lighting up the path, the buildings on the other side of the street to my right, and the overhead power lines.

I began to wonder about what characters in books see.  We don’t always read about what they see, but what is described to us through the narrative. In first person point of view, it’s most likely we’ll read how the character sees everything, but not so much in other points of view.  I write in third person, which provides the reader a picture of what’s happening if they’re standing near the characters (although somehow we’re plugged into the thoughts and feelings of one of the characters).

And then, I thought about how authors describe the settings.  How detailed do they get?  Tolkien was extremely detailed.  I’ve had a friend tell me that his wife couldn’t read Lord of the Rings because she couldn’t handle the information overload that the descriptions gave her.  It was too much.  I think too much detail can bog things down too much, even though I thoroughly enjoyed Lord of the Rings.  It did result in my reading of it getting sluggish through The Two Towers.  But too little description makes it difficult for me to figure out exactly where they are and what they can see.  I don’t understand the environment.  I can’t form a good picture in my mind at all.  And sometimes I get a decent description, but some things are missing, making it quite confusing (MoonRush was like this, making me wonder if some saloon on the moon had airlocks or not). We need a good balance, and I hope to achieve that in my writing.

What do you think?  Do you like a lot of description, or something more balanced?  Let me know in the comments.