Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's in the details

I haven't posted my usual book reviews recently (well, in the last week) for a couple of reasons.

One, I'm beta reading for a friend so I'm not currently reading published material (I'm re-reading Patricia Briggs on the side, but not sure a re-read counts).

I'm also reconsidering my general habit of posting reviews of most books I read. But since I'm slowly shifting from reader to author, I may only post reviews of books I genuinely loved. Still mulling that one over.

Instead, I've been thinking about the role of details in writing.

Confession: I am not a particularly detail-oriented person. I remember big strokes issues in movies and books: character motivations, overriding plot arcs, etc., but I often forget character name minutes after finishing a book.

For me, the details come during the revision process, and they're something I have to layer in. Something I have to think about.

Still, as I've been doing this beta read, one thing I'm noticing is how powerful my friend's details are. They elevate scenes that might otherwise be fairly generic to something sharp and memorable.

File:FJM88NL Grass close up.JPG
But where do the details come from? Sometimes, I can simply brainstorm details. But most of the time, the details come from research.
In THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, I found some delightful details by reading an old guidebook to one of the grand palaces I described, which included the tidbit that during the early 19th century, the palace had been largely abandoned and sheep had been pastured inside the house itself!
I also read a lot of travel narratives from nineteenth-century visitors to Hungary, trying to see the country as it would have appeared to outsiders at the time. Among other things, I discovered a folklore about a feral boy who lived in a neighboring swamp, rumored to have frog-feet and everything. Though this detail might not make it into the final book, I loved what the story evoked about the time and place.
For me, adding the details isn't easy--but they help me add gloss and mood and resonance to otherwise solid (but unremarkable) scenes. 


  1. It's all in the details, or so they say! Those little things can really elevate a scene.

  2. It's funny to hear you say you're not a detail oriented person! There have been several times I asked you for directions instead of someone else, not because you knew the road names better, but because you knew every single detail for every turn I would need to make. So while you may not remember every character's name, I think there are probably other details you would remember instead.

    And I love the sheep in the palace!

  3. I used to put too many details into my early drafts and often got bogged down in them. Now I'm getting better at writing only the barest necessity in early drafts, and filling pertinent details in revision -- while hopefully avoiding stuff I don't need at all.

  4. I think it's a really tough balance -- you need enough details to make the book's world come alive for the reader, but not so many that they get bored. Good luck with that :)