When I was young, my father used to say that the Devil is in the details. I went to college in North Carolina, where the expression was that God is in the details. Whoever is in there, details are important. Why else would supernatural beings reside in them?
But which details, why, when to use them, and how? Too much bogs you down in another writer’s minutia (hello, Caleb Carr), and too few fail to do the job.
1) Before you open up your WIP, ask yourself, what 3 things matter most to the main characters. You can practice by asking yourself what 3 things you (not your characters) would grab if the house was on fire (for me, it’s dog, cat, laptop).
2) As you work this week, experiment and practice with detail; it will become your strongest tool in bringing elements of fiction to life. Questions posed to writers help us to leave our non-writing lives behind. We start with what if and then have to get down to brass tacks. Let details be what brings you to the heart of your writing.
3) How to describe the place around the action? I am working on a scene in the front yard of a house near the woods. I know what the road running by the yard looks like, the exact green of the woods, and that the house’s big front door is not only heavy but painted black.
4) Is it true that clothes make the man? My glamorous sister proves the answer is yes even in her comfy PJs (they have a distinct insouciance to them). Even I, in my decades old skirt from the GAP, answer in the affirmative. So, as you get your mind into your manuscript, ask yourself, who wears what? How do they feel about it? There is a reason I read Lisa Kleypas’ descriptions of clothes more avidly than her sex scenes. The dresses, with their underskirts, flounces, bodices, and lace cuffs, show me more about romance than the throbbing does.
5) Details about Food. I remember how in City Hall (a movie written by Nora Ephron’s husband) Bridget Fonda’s character ordered a burger and a coke. And, I was like, there is no way that Fonda drinks coke (or eats a burger). Compare Fonda’s meal to the special orders Meg Ryan has in Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally. Or look no further than Louise Penny’s mystery novels. They don’t simply reveal who murdered whom, they lovingly linger over meals with warm bread, butter, and rich coffee. Food matters, so don’t gloss over it.
What 3 things would your characters leave in a fire? For me, it would be the junk drawer, the flameless candles I bought on impulse, and the postcards I’ve saved over the years.
The poem for week two is Hurry by Marie Howe. Howe reminds us of how little is needed to build a narrative, but also how much a story can break your heart.