Details, Details

So, this week, I finished a draft of Chapter 1 of the fiction project I mentioned several weeks ago in Where It Begins.   No, I’m still not ready to say it’s a novel.   Anyway, while I need to give the draft a few days before I go back and read it, I know there will be plenty of changes.  It is, after all, a first draft.  If you’re interested, it’s here.   If you’ve been reading Older Eyes for a while, you’ve probably have noticed I like to add detail to my posts … specific examples, links, references and pictures.   I’m the same way when it comes to fiction.   I enjoy filling in the details of setting, of characters and especially of dialog.   For example, my Chapter 1 involves two characters smoking marijuana, Bill, the main character who’s in his sixties and Stacy, the much younger (think 37) woman he’s trying to seduce.   As a sixty something myself, I know the slang associated with marijuana in the sixties but I need to do some research to clean up Stacy’s dialog.   Fortunately, there are excellent reference books on the subject (say, Slang – the authoritative topic-by-topic dictionary of American lingoes from all walks of life by Paul Dickson) and of course, internet resources like Marijuana Dictionary (as a writer, you don’t have to approve of your sources).  And, of course, I have a 37-year old son I can interview if … a big if … I want to know how much he knows.   I may never write dialog like Elmore Leonard … or even Carl Hiassen … but it doesn’t hurt to aim high.

I also needed a location for the mobile home park where Bill lives since his fourth wife got his Huntington Beach McMansion when she divorced him.  While I know Huntington Beach works perfectly for my story, I didn’t want to interrupt the process of drafting Chapter 1 to research a locale where there’d be a somewhat shabby mobile home community with an ocean view.  So, I chose San Pedro as a possibly appropriate place holder.   I’ll probably spend some time on the internet researching mobile home parks in Socal beach communities and eventually drive by a few.   One of the things that characterizes the authors I read is a clear sense of place in their novels … that doesn’t slow down the plot.  I don’t think anyone does this better than Alice Hoffmann.  Yes, that’s aiming very high.

A good question is whether my obsession with details can be a bad thing?  Well, if I get too involved in extended descriptions of the setting, I may end up with more literary novel (er … story), which would not be my preference.  In my reading, I find myself skipping over extended descriptive passages if they interfere with the progress of the story for too many paragraphs, and it makes sense to write something I’d like to read.   I can do the same thing with my characters, describing them down to the last pore at the expense of plot pacing.   In the excellent writer’s guide, Stein on Writing, master editor Sol Stein dedicates Chapter 5 to markers, which he defines as easily identified signals that to the majority of readers will reveal a character’s cultural and social background.   Used as markers, the character’s physical characteristics help define the personality of the character and the context of the story.  And in The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction and Non-Fiction, Pat Kubis and Bob Howland suggest writers Avoid Contrived Dialog and Don’t Use Dialog to Show Off Your Oversize Vocabulary.   Just because I know 450 modern terms for marijuana, I don’t have to use them.

I’m remembering why writing a novel seemed so overwhelming.   But I’m also realizing I remember much of what I learned so many years ago.  Fun.  Scary.

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2 Comments on “Details, Details”

  1. Judy Says:

    My husband has always appreciated the detailed work of Tom Clancy, though maybe that is because it is about “guy stuff”, I don’t know. I would say write as many details as you feel are pertinent. It’s always appealing to me to find a relevant part of a story that hinged on a minor detail in previous chapters…makes me feel a little more invested in the story, as well as careful to pay attention 🙂

  2. oldereyes Says:

    I’ve never been very good a spotting those crucial details in other people’s fiction, which is maybe why I don’t think I make a good mystery or action/adventure writer.

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