Details

Details

Worlds and characters . . .

They all need details to make them real to the readers.

And the fun part is when they serve a dual purpose with foreshadowing.

I just reread John Ringo and Lydia Sherrer’s _Into The Real_, this time with a little more analysis than the first read. And there are so many things that could be foreshadowing stuff, both good and bad, in the next books . . . Waiting for the next one . . . and the next one . . . is going to drive me up the wall.

As a writer, this is something you want to do.

And maybe they are just details, fleshing out the characters, helping the reader “see” the setting.

You see, you start with something small. A village, say.

Not good enough, needs details!

Okay, fine, a small tidy village in a small valley. Towering mountains to the east, lower hills on the other sides.

Well, a village needs a tavern/inn. A mill, a butcher’s shop, houses and barns and  . . .

Well (says the writer) that’s all well and good, but the tavern’s good place to have a story start, so let’s have some details . . . it’s on a crossroads, even if in this remote village there only one real road. The other little tracks lead off to . . . the mill on the stream . . . the farm up the hill . . . And it probably has a big fireplace, tables and chairs . . . a long bar that looks like a split log, the top polished. A nice red mahogany. (Where the heck did he get that?)

Oh, people, right. Start with the innkeeper. Retired from the army, once a powerful man, now just old, stooped . . .

All right, enough! This wasn’t where I meant to go!

See, those details don’t just  build a World, they round out the characters with background. They hopefully catch the reader’s imagination and carry them away into the story. Where does the road come from or go to? Who will be coming up it? And a retired soldier? Got to be a story there, and most likely he’s not going to be allowed a quiet retirement . . . Read on and find out . . .

Details should touch on all the senses, the high chatter of the women in the kitchen, the smell of baking bread, the smooth polished surface of the bar, the flickering lamplight reflecting off the polished brass tap in the beer keg, the bitterness of the first swallow . . .   

Okay. Don’t get bogged down with the details, and don’t just list it all. It’s got to be interspersed with action or dialog.

But the details of how the beer is served add to the whole experience. Did the barkeeper hasten nervously? Saunter over with a friendly nod? Look the customer over and sniff dismissively while doing him the favor of noticing him?

Did the customer swagger in, and thump the bar, demanding attention? Or survey the room and find a place to get his back to the wall and the front door under his gaze? Or himself not immediately visible from the door? Warm himself by the fire or look around for a friend? Note that the local farmers weren’t the least intimidated by his heavily armed menace? Or did they finish their drinks and depart quickly? 

Okay, and I’d better add, don’t over do it. Don’t give massive back story all at once. Stuff that will be important later (like, for instance a fear of heights) should be mentioned well ahead of the crisis that requires this talent or will challenge this fear. Don’t dwell too heavily on it, but don’t have it come out of nowhere an instant before it’s important . . .

And of course mentioning this early means the reader sort of expects it to be relevant. As in you have foreshadowed. Congratulations! Unless, of course, you were just fleshing out the character and making him a bit more real. That’s all right too.

Now, having rambled incoherently, perhaps I should mention that the arthritis has kicked up lately and I’m having to resort to prescription level pain killers  . . . so I will crease rambling, and just urge you writers in the group to add enough details to your worlds and characters to keep your readers immersed in the story, and when they have to step away, wondering what possible purpose the writer could have in making his Main Character a snake charmer.   

And have you tried a Time Travel story lately? This is a good one. Honest.

8 comments

  1. Until the black death, villages didn’t have bars. A woman who made ale would make enough to sell on an ad hoc basis.

  2. Sometimes those details can kick off other plot elements too. Was just working on a story involving a changeling swap. One of the clues is the doll left behind is not something that anyone local would make.

    So I went a looked up details of the types of dolls that would show up in the region it would have been from. I was expecting material culture stuff, what sort of things they used, region specific types of manufactur.

    Instead I ran into a thing called a “clay body”. Basically the Scottish take on the voodoo doll, just nastier.

    So now instead of the doll expert telling them, “Nope not local.” they freak the f- out, and now we’ve got a new side thread, and a red herring to bury the clue in.

  3. Another detail problem is when you are doing a series and stop doing as much description because by book five, you know very well what settings and people look like, how them move, and so on. Except . . . you the writer live in the world while writing it. Readers don’t. Oops. I caught myself gliding past description, and had to go tuck it back in.

    1. Yeah. You try to not be repetitive and wind up with (in my case) my husband scratching his head and finally saying “Okay, I sort of remember the doomsday cube . . . “

  4. Details are tricky to work with. God(dess) knows that I’m a detail slut and I like talking about far too many things and describing things because I personally hate the whole “and then a miracle occurs” sort of writing.

    …but, in all fairness…I don’t…think…people need all the details of one of my character’s cosplay collections.

    I’m pretty sure.

    Maybe.

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