How many of you have found that you have a tendency to write too much about too little, or drag a part of story on well past the point of being useful to the story as a whole? I find that as I have been writing more I tend to do this more and more; I like to explain things and give details (heck, my favorite book of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo–all 1500 pages!) even when they aren’t really necessary. It’s just a part of who I am, but that doesn’t make it good writing. In fact, to a certain degree, less is actually more. That’s not to say we shouldn’t give any details or develop any subplots or side characters–I think all of those are good and excellent things in stories–but there needs to be a purpose behind them. They should add to the story or to the meaning of the story, I think, and this is where I find myself at fault. I construct a subplot that is relevant to the main story but I spend too much time worrying about the less necessary details of the subplot. It is here that I think less is more. The audience does not need to know about the history of a town that the protagonist sees in the distance, or the elf that lives in the forest he passes by, or the innkeeper’s daughter who fancied the protagonist from afar. None of these are bad things to think about and develop for the world, but the entire world cannot be included into one plot or else someone needs to go back in time and tell Tolkien that Silmarillion was unnecessary.
So how far is too far? Ultimately that is a judgment call that lies in your hands and will develop from experience, however, I have found that my proclivity for identifying the limits I need has developed significantly from the critical reviews of my friends who have read my works. In the end it will always be a judgment call, but I hope that this will help you to begin searching out and identifying parts of your works that maybe are not necessary or are detailed beyond the point of necessity and good story writing.