Thursday, August 26, 2010

Revisiting the scene of pain (or The Devil in the Details)

Has anybody ever ACTUALLY slipped on one of these?

Remember when I lost that fight with the sidewalk and then waxed philosophical about how living life makes us better writers?

Today, after revisiting the brutal sandy sidewalk which taught me that lesson, I had another epiphany:

Details matter.

You see, from a distance, the sidewalk next to the sand pit (it really can't be called a sand box when it's surrounded by concrete that dips a foot or more down) is, well, sandy.

But when you look closely, you'll see that some spots are more well-endowed than others. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean there are spots with more sand.)

Had I been watching for details, I would have seen the mini-puddle of sand that tripped me up.

Or that tiny plot hole that even my beta readers missed.

The devil's in the details. Paying attention is crucial.

My critique group, Operation Awesome, has really helped me come to this epiphany. Special thanks to Angela Townsend, whose delightfully detailed writing is always a pleasure to read, for taking the time to explain the importance of details.

Dust on his boots. Twirling her chronically straight hair. The faint smell of honeysuckle on his fingers. Her errant curiosity about his toilet paper preferences.

These are what make character and setting (both things in my manuscript that need fleshing out). When I first wrote Now Untitled Because Nobody Understood the Title, I just wanted to get the story out in the most authentic, quirky voice my main character could muster. I purposely went light on the details so I wouldn't fall into my old trap of telling too much. I believe rambling is what killed my third novel (the literary scifi fantasy in first person). But in my haste and earnest desire to keep it simple, I deprived readers of the experience. 

I read for the experience. I want to taste and feel and see the world my fictional friends must navigate. I want to see a new person at school through their eyes. I want to understand what they're feeling by the twitches and shrugs and, yes, even the sighs.

So today I'm going through the manuscript again and adding. (I can do this because I skimped on the several drafts, and cut words, too.) I'm adding physical responses, mental interiority, setting descriptions, and side-character quirks to make what I still believe to be a great story into a visual, four-dimensional delight.     

Someday, I hope to share it with you. Until then, have fun writing!

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