Saturday, January 29, 2011

Details, Again

By Keith N Fisher

Last week I mentioned putting details in your story. I don’t think I did justice to the subject, so here’s another.

In the world of drafting and design, instructions must be communicated in a clear and concise manner. If a builder or manufacturer doesn’t understand the intention of the designer, walls can be built in the wrong places, parts might not fit, and thousands of dollars could be wasted.

In an interview with the manager of a steel fabrication firm, he told me about a drafting mistake made in the bolt hole placement on some wide flange beams. It cost thousands of dollars to make, and ship the oversize beams, only to find they didn’t fit. Man-hours were

As a builder, I learned the value of good drawings. There were many times when we had to use a tape measure and extrapolate real world dimensions, because the draftsman didn’t provide clear details. Other times, the plans called for a special feature, Like a dumbwaiter shaft. The designer would draw details giving a clear picture of the intention.

I saw a moveable basketball standard put together wrong, once. The base was sideways at an angle to the backboard. It caught my attention, because I’d just put together exactly the same standard for my daughter’s Christmas present.

As it turned out the person who assembled the other one, didn’t pay attention to the detail that showed hole alignment and once the pieces went together, they couldn’t be pulled apart, which was another feature the details warned about.

As writers we create whole worlds. Our design lies complete, in our head, but if we don’t communicate the nuances, our readers won’t see the world the way we see it.

I’m not advocating flowery descriptions, but if the protagonist can see a second moon in his world, I need to know there is one.

Try to imagine you’re designing a house. Think of what features you want it to have. Then explain it. Put yourself in the builder’s shoes. What kind of information do you need to know in order to build that design? Now examine your novel. Is there some detail you’re leaving out? Is there a valuable piece of information that will help your reader love your story?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go back and add details to a story because my character changed something in later chapters. Worse, is having, to go back and add details to a character description or a character’s feelings because I left them out.

If you want your reader to see what you see, or know what you know, then tell them. Give them the details. Of course you know more about characters and places in your story than anyone, and some details don’t need to be shared. Dumbledore is not gay, by the way.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

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