Monday, August 13, 2012

It’s All in the Details

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

1181030674_68b642194bA friend of mine has a party each summer. Each summer she tells me, “Now, Elizabeth. I know you don’t like parties, but I’m counting on you to come!”

Each year, I forget this party is imminent and when she reminds me about it (always, always in person), I’m sure I look completely stricken before I say, “Of course! I’m looking forward to it.”

The thing about this party is that I usually only know a few people there. This isn’t a big deal because I’m actually more comfortable with strangers—except for the fact that every single year I’m somehow introduced by the people I do know at the party as “their author friend” to the other guests.

Y’all know what I mean. Terrifying. I usually down my fair share of wine at this gathering.

Each year I also forget that everyone else in the world (excepting, perhaps, other writers), enjoys parties. Each year when I visit my friend in the days before the party, she’ll say something like, “What dish are you bringing to the party?” or “What are you wearing to the party?” or “What do you think if we do such-and-such at the party?”

And again I’ll give her this completely startled look. Sometimes I will even have already forgotten about the upcoming party (it would be on my calendar--but not in my head.) I won’t have given a thought what to bring to the party or what I’d wear. Each year it makes her laugh.

Each year I'll go to the party (I went last week, actually.) I'll visit with everyone, then leave fairly early with great relief. Without my serving dish.

Yes, I’m really a difficult person to be friends with. :)

There are details, while I’m writing, that are just not particularly important to me. A lot of them have to do with the things I mentioned above.

Setting, clothing descriptions, character descriptions, and dialogue tags come to mind. Details. Even as a reader, I tend to skip over them. I had some description. I had some tags. But obviously, I didn't have enough.

At first, when I was writing, it took repeated notes from my different editors to point out the problem. Subconsciously, I must have thought that if it didn’t matter to me, it didn’t matter to the reader. And, really, it went deeper than that. These characters and places were so colorful and animated in my head--I think I forgot that others couldn't see them too.

I’d find notes in Track Changes on the first few books from editors (different publishers, different series): Elizabeth, who is talking here? or Elizabeth, how old is this character? or Can you tell us a little more about what this store looks like? I can’t picture it. or This would be a great opportunity to tell what everyone is eating at the party.

Eventually, I realized I was getting the same notes a lot. Although writing description and other details slows me down while I’m writing (because I do labor over it—it’s not natural for me), I now layer in my details after I’m done with the first draft of the book. That way, everyone’s happy.

Because of course readers want that kind of information! Most people do. But it took my editors to point that out to me.

The point I’m making with this post is a couple of different things. First of all, we could all do with beta readers and editors to help point out what we’re blind to in our own book.

Also, if there are things that take extra effort from us—things that we have to take special care to write well—then layering in the text after the first draft can be a good way to accomplish that goal.

Have you ever found holes like this in your story—or had someone else point them out? Do you enjoy reading or writing details and description?

Image—Flickr Abdallah™'s photostream