Friday, September 27, 2013

Details in Fiction

To do your job well of transporting your readers to another world, your writing has to give them the feeling that they have entered an actual three dimensional space. Details can make all the difference. Take for example this bit of description from a New York City scene in my soon-to-be-published novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe:"
 "Some fifteen minutes later, taxis honking impatiently, a siren wailing from a nearby street, we stood outside the cafe with our hands stubbornly in our pockets, a Milky Way wrapper swirling in the dust and wind at our feet."
I could have just said that they stood on the sidewalk, but  instead their body language bring a picture - complete with emotions - to mind. I could have just said that the street was full of city sounds, but the details about the sounds bring the scene more to life, giving the reader the impression that this really happened. I could have mentioned "a bit of trash," but the fact that my character noticed what the trash was tells you he was trying not to focus on what was really happening between him and the other guy (it's an emotional scene), and that there was enough time for him to have noticed.
In an earlier scene, my character is getting a ride in a Volkswagen bug and I have my character tell the reader, "I ran my thumb along the textured squares of the vinyl seat." Have you ever been in an older model Volkswagen bug? Didn't reading that line just bring it all back to you what those seats felt like, looked like? Doesn't this bit of movement also show some sense of nervousness and contemplation on the character's part?
In one of the opening scenes my character tells the reader "I looked out the window, past my faded cowboy and Indian curtains, and watched the soft December snow falling." In my first draft I just had him looking out the window and seeing the snow. I added the curtains to give detail. First I thought, there are probably curtains on the window, so let me show that. Then I asked myself what kind of curtains. He's 12 years old here so I emphasis with the curtains his move from childhood towards adolescence, which is relevant to the scene. 
With all the examples, the details aren't just thrown in there to bring the scene alive, each one of them also serves some other purpose to the story.
So tell us what kind of soda your detective is drinking and weather the can is dented or not cold enough or if it tastes too sweet or has gone flat - but only if it adds to character development or gives us a clue to who done it. Maybe the fact that it's not cold means that someone put it in the fringe after the beautiful heiress was murdered, and that must mean that the pool boy was lying about where he was at the time of the murder because he was the only one who had a key to the cabana and..... but the detective doesn't put all that together until Chapter 12, though the savvy reader realizes.....

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