One of the little twitches I have when I'm revising a novel is that I will mercilessly go through and cut out everything that's not essential to the story. Part of this is just to clean up after my first draft. I like to throw odd things in that strike my fancy while drafting ("maybe the two big guys are actually twins, and I can do something with the idea of twins later on!" or "maybe Fredrik has one leg shorter than the other, and I can do something with that later on!") and see if they develop, and sometimes they become gorgeous symbols and set pieces and sometimes they're just rubbish I need to clear off the page later.
What this means is that at some point during my revisions process, I have a fairly tight narrative with no extraneous material in it. Which is a good thing, to a point. There is a danger--always realized in my case, I think--that all of the cool details that make the fictional world a rich experience for the reader are removed, because the number and type of buttons on someone's gloves is not a significant detail so I have cut it out, just as I have cut out the discussion of the tightness of the wood grain on the arm of a chair, and other things. Which leaves me with a sort of empty world, where characters are floating a bit in a vacuum. I don't know why I do this every time, but I do.
I am forced then to go back into the novel for another round of revisions, putting in all the details of the fictional world that I've removed. I pause to note that it's never quite so extreme as I'm making it here; possibly I only cut out about half of the details of setting and place and appearance that I put in during the first draft, but it seems like a lot to me. Anyway, I am currently in this stage of revisions with my novel Killing Hamlet, and I have always sort of disliked this stage of the process. I have felt that, in a way, I am betraying my own rules about a proper narrative by larding up my prose with stuff that the story can live without. But I also want my story to have the flavor of the time and place, without the level of detail found in novels of the historical fiction genre, where things can be--in my opinion--a bit excessive, reading like a catalogue or an encyclopedia.
Last night I was weaving in little bits of trivia about 16th-century beliefs regarding the planets in our solar system, just a sentence or two here and there through the novel (the protagonist is an astronomer/astrologer), and it occurred to me that I was not choking up my story with unnecessary detail so much as I was going around the house I'd built and furnished and putting flower arrangements and objets d'art in the rooms. Mighty Reader makes sure we have fresh flowers year round, and I have no complaints about how pretty this makes our house, and were the flowers to go away, I'd miss them awfully much. So I have decided that this is what I'm doing with my book, and that it's a good thing, as long as I don't pile in so many bouquets that you can no longer see my characters.
Anyway, and I stipulate in advance that "it's all in the execution," but what are your thoughts about details that are only in the story as set dressing, as props? I have railed against them in the past on this very blog, but I'm older and more mellow and, frankly, a bit tired today. But how much is enough, or too much, and when in the writing process do you put them in, and how much do you remove? Et cetera.