I think I’ll just write a bit more on significant detail. Have I beaten this horse ‘till it’s dead? I’m not sure that’s possible.
The life of a scene is in the details. The details put you within the character himself as he experiences the scene first-hand. The better and more perfect the details, the better your reader will step into the scene. (I can’t help but think of the Mary Poppins scene when they jump through the sidewalk picture, but I digress.)
We’ve talked a lot about visual details, as film is so primarily visual. We, as fiction writers, have the advantage of being able to use all the senses.
What does the character see, of course. But, also, what does he smell, hear, feel on his skin, taste. You get the picture. When you’re writing a scene here’s what I want you to do: Put your hands out and form the frame. Then look through the frame to see your scene. Listen to your scene. Smell your scene.
Anybody been by the ocean lately? I’m amazed that each time I’ve been there the waves are different, they seem to have a personality. One day it’s bright and sunny and the next it’s dark and stormy. When it’s stormy, the seas get choppy and there are jellyfish pieces strewn everywhere on the beach. If you look off into the distance, you can see the humidity as almost a mist. And then there are the smells, sometimes fish smell, sometimes just sea smell. And the sound of the waves, an underlying roar as you walk along. And what does the water feel like when it hits your feet and calves? Is it warm? Maybe not the first time, but after that, it is (at least in Florida - the Pacific is cold).
I know I tend to rush through scenes as I’m writing them. Because I know this, I have to either force myself to go slower, to actively think about the details, or I have to put them in after the fact as I’m editing.
In his workshop at a previous conference, Jonathan King shared so many great thoughts on adding significant detail. The tape/CD is well worth getting. Here are some of his observations:
“A telling detail that shows the emotion that the character isn’t willing to show otherwise - teeth marks in the glasses .”
“Instead of - it was just after seven - the sun was turning orange and hanging momentarily before plunging behind the mountain.”
“Instead of crime scene tape - yellow, three-inch wide crime scene tape” Or what about the sepia tones on camera - he knew the crime scene tape was yellow, but it just looked grey to him now.
“Details can paint time: A black rotary phone. . .”
King, who for many years was a journalist, talks about a husband who killed his wife then shot himself. He relates that the items in the husband’s pocket included a receipt for ice cream cones that the husband and wife shared mere hours before the incident. Those are the details that make the story come to life. What does your character have in his pockets? In her purse? We must all start paying attention to these little things.
Does your hard-nose PI wear a Mickey Mouse watch? Does your soft female lead have posters of Harleys on her office wall or does she listen to rap music? Is there a Patrick Roy poster on the wall, one edge curling up for lack of interest? These are details that tell more than they’re telling, aren’t they? The things your character notices when he walks into a room tells both what the room looks like and gives your reader insight into your character.
Your assignment this month is to crank up the detail. Add it all into each scene. You can always trim it later. As you’re watching movies and television, look for what’s going on behind the character - is there snow falling outside the window behind the characters as they talk - look for the props in the rooms. What kind of telephone is she talking on? Remember, even if the script didn’t call for those details, someone chose them and probably had a good reason for each choice.
Until next month, have a great month and BiC-HoK (Butt in Chair – Hands on Keyboard)
(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2005.)
About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.
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