Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's in the detail

One of the big questions for a writer is how much detail and which detail do you highlight? What is the function of detail?
Detail gives a description and provides facts but more than that it gives insight into the POV's state of mind.
Two characters looking at the same thing will notice different details. A character whose mood has changed will notice different details. Details help to ring the changes.
Where one character notices the flaking bits of paint and the worn carpet, another sees the soaring majesty of the building. The reasons why each character notices those things is important.
If you take a description in a book, and describe that scene from another's POV, what details change? If no details change, why? It can be a clue that you need make sure that your characters are given stronger opinions. Use detail to bring out changes, to highlight and to help make your characters memorable.
Take the colour brown -- is it warm melting chocolate or the colour of a muddy puddle. Should beige be banned or is it a fashionable choice? The fact that a character chooses to call light brown camel rather than taupe says something about that character. If the character is only choosing that word because you as a writer have access to a thesaurus, then you are in trouble and your scene doesn't have as much life as it could have.
It is the character's reaction to the colour and its associations that are important rather than the actual colour.
I would argue that if the characters reactions and emotions are missing, the scene is going to feel a bit flat.
Word description and detail is all about choice. What does the character choose to see and why? Why do they feel passionately enough to use those words? How does the word choice influence them? Objects and scenery are neutral until the person describing them or labelling them breathes life into them.


Joanna St. James said...

every time I come to your blog I feel like I just got a free lesson. Thank you

Nell Dixon said...

Agatha Christies books are a masterclass in this, especially the Poirot stories. In one he takes the characters back to the scene of the murder and each one describes the room. The details reveal their character eg the companion noticed the water in the flower vases needed changing etc etc.

Sophia Harrop said...

I hadn't thought about that before, but you're right. I try to make my characters notice things, rather than pointing the setting out in a long paragraph of description, but yes, I guess you shouldn't go overboard with that as it matters what each one notices.

LindseyHughes said...

Great post - back to correct ms.

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