Level of description in fan fiction?

Hi, I’m struggling a bit lately with how thoroughly I should describe settings, people and lore in my fan fiction story. Because I don’t want to bore the reader with details that they already know (from the original story) but at the same time I don’t want my story to feel too bare.

My struggle also kinda come from the fact that I suck at description… I love to describe emotions and setting the mood but actually describing how things look like just aint really my thing. But I can suck it up and do it if the story calls for it.

So I want to know how other fan fiction writers have handled this? Regardless of which fandom you write for this is probably something you have dealt with. Do you describe in detail how people look like, how places look like, how earlier events happened? Or do you assume that the reader already know these things?

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as for setting i typically use the bare minimum, as i function the same way - my focus is more on emotions than anything. it’s important to have a little bit of setting so your characters aren’t just floating around in space, but other than that, if it isn’t a super important part of your story and most of your readers already know what it is, i don’t think that you should have to put that much focus on it. even in non-fanfiction stories, the importance of the setting can vary! it’s all up to you


I prefer fanfiction that has less description. I’m there for the character interaction. I still want to see the reactions of the characters (body language) and explore their feelings, etc, but I’m usually reading fanfic for a quick fix.

The amount of detail I put in my original work vs. fanfic varies significantly, but I still try to give a general setting for each scene, a few details about appearance if the scene warrants it (one character is beginning to notice how attractive the other is and describes their freckles or something, or has never seen the other person in a suit before lol). I will usually give a paragraph or so of context for my story, but keep it brief - especially if it’s within the canon universe.

The choice of detail, background, etc really comes down to a scene by scene decision. How early in the story is it? How much does the fanfic diverge from canon and canon locations? What’s the nature of the chapter (enemies to lovers development vs. pure smut)? How long has it been since the last interaction (how many updates do we need in expository format)?

If you’re really struggling to find a balance, I would just read more fanfic to get a better idea? Ao3 has a pretty great selection of writers, and they typically know how to balance description and dialogue pretty well.


I do describe characters and settings, but not overly. Although, for my last fanfiction I did put in more descriptions just for practice. I struggle with descriptions as well. :sweat_smile:

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When I describe known things, it tends to be in the context of adding a judgement from the PoV character, so that the audience gets a new detail about the world or character-relations that they wouldn’t have otherwise. So eg: if the reader knows that character A has long hair, the prose might go ‘She peered at the man. He had long, white hair, which looked super-impractical for swordfighting’. Or if the reader knows there are seven massive statues, there might be a line like 'The seven statues loomed on the horizon. There had apparently once been eight statues, until the awkward low-flying-dragon incident of ‘93.’

More generally, I don’t think I use much description. I tend to add it in afterwards, for rhythm, if a scene moves too fast. Sometimes I add small details in so I can set up jokes. But yeah, I sketch things out and ‘tell’ a lot; I prefer to get to the point.


Thank you! This is basically where I’m at too, I describe what is needed and more to set the mood than to actually describe every part of the setting. It’s not my writing style, regardless of if I write fan fiction or not.

I had been pondering this earlier though and I got some comments from a reader today about it (although that reader is not a fan of the fandom I write in, so it’s easy to see why he was missing some description).

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My story does take place entirely after the events of the canon story (this is a GoT story set in a post-show Westeros) so it doesn’t really diverge at all. For the stuff that is specific to this story though I try to give some context and as I use some settings that were never seen on the show I give a rough outline of how they look like. But there would be a lot of stuff to explain if I had to give the whole background for everything…

I have not read a lot of fan fic myself in the past so I will try to take a look at some stuff (within the fandom I write).

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Descriptions are the worst… they just come out cliche and dumb when I try to write them so that’s why I avoid them. And honestly I often kinda skim through descriptions when I read stuff myself, I like to get a general idea of it but every detail isn’t that important. I’m more in it for the plot and character development.

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This is actually exactly what I’ve been experimenting with lately. I have 2 main characters who never actually met in the original story so when they meet I will plan to describe them from each other’s perspective. This feel more natural to me as that also gives information about the characters themselves, how do they view other people? Which is more interesting to me than like which hair color a character has or how tall they are (which should be know for this story as there are actual actors who play these characters).

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If it’s set in Westeros, it might need a lot of description just because of a) the world and b) the genre. I mean yeah, it’s fanfic, but still a fantasy one.

That’s a good question. I think if you don’t want to do it, don’t force it. A few key words are often enough.

HOWEVER, if you ever hope to attract readers who are not familiar with the fandom, they will immediately notice lack of descriptions or poor character development.

For me, describing places is not that bad. I like to look at pictures of either from the fandom or something similar to help me figure it out. I think fans appreciate when you mention places they know.

But describing people is my Achilles heel.

This NaNoWriMo I sat down to write my first full-length original novel and my characters have nearly no descriptions. It’s something that I never cared about in fanfics but now I have to seriously work on it. It’s a skill and it needs practice just like everything else. I hope that one day it will no longer feel forced.

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That’s a good method and good examples. It’s best to incorporate the setting into the action of the scene. That way it doesn’t feel forced and doesn’t pause the scene. You don’t want to give readers a reason to skip the paragraph.

Here, for example, I make fun of Salazar Slytherin’s love of snakes and describe the creepy setting while still moving the story forward.

Stone pillars with - what else - serpents carved into them framed the long chamber. Their shoes echoed on the smooth stone even though they tried to step quietly.

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I wrote/am writing several open fanfictions so I add a lot of character detail, I also write the character as older than they are canonically in those fics so that also requires more description for them and the canon locations.
But for my non-open fics (mostly one shot and drabbles) I don’t bother with more description than needed to understand what’s happening in the scene because I know anyone reading it is probably already familiar with the characters and canon places (non-canon places get more description).

So it depends on if you’re writing for fans only or for anyone who might be willing to give your fic a chance.

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That’s what I saw afraid of… but dammit I don’t want to! I just wanna explore the inner thoughts of poor blacksmith turned lord Gendry Baratheon (spoiler: his thoughts are mainly: What the fuck am I doing? I have no clue how to do any of this? I can’t even read!!!)

But yeah I will try to suck it up and add at least some description of people and places. And it’s come to my attention that it’s kinda unclear when in the timeline of the show some of my events are happening, so I will definitely try to provide more context for that. I mean I know it’s my story so I can kinda do what I want but I want to at least have some chance of people reading it and understanding what is going on.

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I am not really aiming for readers who aren’t familiar with the fandom, as my story is set post-show and it feels like I would have to infodump basically all the events of the show for that to be possible as the backstory of the characters are important for what happens in the story.

I do use characters and environments not seen on screen in the show and I do describe them in those cases. My problem is mainly with characters and environments that should already be know to the reader, but how much can I expect them to remember when it comes to minor characters and places not seen for many seasons? (one of my main characters did not even appear in the last season and I have gotten feedback about people not remembering how she looks like)

Yeah this is probably how I will aim to do it, because when I read stuff myself I often do skip over long paragraphs of just description. And I don’t want the reader to feel like they are getting infodumped with stuff they already know.

My story is intended to be completely canon (although it gives more detail to what certain characters did when we didn’t see them on screen, and what they did after the show ended) and not open (because opening it would basically mean infodumping 6 seasons worth of events…). But at the same time I do want it to be kind of stand alone once it get going, it’s just a lot of stuff to sort out first to get the characters to where they need to be.

My two main characters are only minor characters in the show though and this is proving to be a bit of a problem as readers don’t always remember exactly what happened to them during the show (they both disappeared for whole seasons at some point). So while they are the exact same characters that appeared on the show that doesn’t mean that the reader know exactly what that entails. (apparently not everyone spends their time watching youtube videos and reading wikis about minor GoT characters…)

For my two fanfics, I tried to stay true to the characters personality. Hard core fans would probably be able to visualize them. I didn’t get to descriptive with settings.

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