Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Details, Details, Details!!!

I’ve noticed while reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels that Ms. Harris drops quite a few details that some might deem unnecessary.

For instance, we always know not only what Sookie is wearing- but what everyone else is wearing too.

We spend some time in each novel eating.

Shopping.

Sleeping.

Napping.

Tanning.

Reading.  (Yes.  Sookie likes the library)

And working at Merlotte’s- where we follow Sookie as she picks up people’s orders (we get a detailed account of what most people eat too.  The chicken basket.  A salad.  Or burgers Lafayette.)

And yet... I wouldn’t change any of that for the world.  While binging on these books, I really feel like I’m in the small town of Bon Temps.  Like I’m having a mind-vacation in the Louisiana bayous.  The small details about Sookie’s everyday life not only help me relate to the character but really pull me into her world. 

Part of this might have to do with the fact that there are always so many conflicts, and tension, and things going on around Sookie that the small details describing her ‘downtime’ are a nice break from all of that for the reader. 

But I’m not convinced this would work as well in say, your normal contemporary romance where the plot is more level with less suspense.

What kind of details do you include in your writing?  What kind of details drive you nuts?  And what details can’t you live without?

33 comments:

Miranda Hardy said...

I horrible with details, but great with action scenes. I'll be adding in more details in the rewrite, but I don't want to overdo it. They seem distracting most of the time.

Laura Pauling said...

What a great observation! Details are what adds depth. And if I like the character and their voice, even without conflict, I'll watch them do about anything. Often it's b/c we know something with conflict will happen soon.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm still working on this. I used to describe clothing, but now I only do it if it's important to characterization. For some books I want to know the details (like in YA paranormals) and in others (like contemp) I don't care unless it adds to the story and doesn't slow the pace (otherwise I'll just skim over it).

Rebecca Clare Smith said...

Clothing details rub me up the wrong way. I'm not the kind of girl who can even dress herself properly so reading about a character in a 'perfect' fictional outfit bothers me quite a bit. I really don't care if their shirt is pink or blue unless it's imperative to the plot.

I write clothing details in my own work, but I don't describe the whole outfit if it's superfluous. I'll mention shoes if I want a reader to think of their heels echoing on a hard floor or, as in my current WIP, my character's jeans and the bullet hole she shot through them. But if it's not necessary to mention them then I don't see the point. After all, a reader makes a character their own when they imagine them.

Cynthia Lee said...

I hate knowing what everyone in a book is wearing or eating. I also don't need to know how someone's hair is styled. I hate stuff like that and it will make me stop reading a book.

That's just me, though. I imagine it may not bother other people.

Matthew MacNish said...

I mention meals, and clothing sometimes, and other little details of description, because it helps to ground the reader in the world, I hope. But I generally end up having to cut most of it, because I'm so damn long winded I end up with no room left.

April said...

Good question. I don't know how to answer it, really, because it just depends. Sometimes, I have to add details for senses other than seeing during my revisions. I tend to leave out scent and touch, and though I don't ever want to spend too much time on these details, I want and sometimes need to add them. I don't always describe looks. I hardly ever talk about sleeping unless the character can't sleep for some reason or is woken up by something. I don't know...and now I'm rambling!

Summer Frey said...

Those are things I've always liked about the Sookie novels as well. I think it shows character in a great way--these are important to Sookie, therefore important to us.

It's something I try to do, but usually end up describing bodies (of strange creatures) or buildings in a lot of detail. The only time I mentioned what color shirt my protag wore, it was a foreshadowing (white shirt, later covered in blood).

I definitely love reading those kinds of details, though!

Sarah said...

I noticed that about the books and at times got impatient with it (though I love them). I think you need enough detail to ground the reader but no more--unless it's significant to the plot.

Marisa Hopkins said...

I loved the details in the Sookie books, too! There are some books, though, that add those same types of details, but in the particular story, it just isn't necessary. So hard to know how to balance - I know I certainly don't have the balance down yet :P My character spend way too much time looking at unnecessary stuff, I think!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

When I'm reading a book, as soon as the author starts talking about what the characters are wearing or eating, I skim over it and look ahead. Not crazy about long descriptions of setting, either. My eye is drawn toward what's in the character's head and of course, dialogue.

Of course, this also means I'll be frantically looking backwards if somebody was poisoned during the meal or the knick-knack on the mantel piece turned out to be a crucial plot point. LOL!

Patti said...

I have to admit that I like knowing at first what the characters are wearing, but later on I find I skim over those details unless they add to the plot.

Mark Noce said...

Lol, great post and groovy title:)

Old Kitty said...

I do remember a section (the middle bit - a huge section!) of the wonderful White Teeth by beautiful Zadie Smith where I so very nearly shut down. Her MC was helping a science professor deal with some kind of DNA conundrum and although the conclusion to the conundrum made sense at the end - oh my stars - it was like reading a scientific technical paper on clinical research and theory. I'm glad I persisted because this is one of my all time fave books. But I just thought the 3 or 4 chapters devoted to this clinical research was much too much!!

So that's my contribution to this discussion! LOL!!! Take care
x

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Fantastic post, I think you really nailed it. Details depend on voice, tension, and plot - and sometimes the 'rules' about leaving out unimportant information can also take away the character of a story. :)

Hart Johnson said...

You know... I tried to read the firsts of those and couldn't get into them. I wonder if you've nailed why... though a lot of it was also first person present... it takes a HELL of a great story to get me past that. Mostly it sounds like middle school writing to me.

That said, I think you've probably got it, that for many, those are tolerable because they are the rest between action and much of it also beause the books are sort of a soap opera... there is a long winding story and you ARE joining the world there.

As for me... I am not big on aesthetic detail. I DO probably give some psychological assessment though, that is heavier detail than a lot of people might. It's my background and I just usually have a somewhat analytical narrator.

Johanna Garth said...

It's funny, whenever I write about clothing I start to feeling like I'm writing for a magazine...I don't know, it just feels like it doesn't belong in a book.

That being said I've seen other people do it really well.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I'm kinda lost on this one. I write contemporary romantic suspense, so for me the plot details are key. But my crit partner is a regency romance writer and is constantly telling me I need to say what they're wearing and describe the room...Grrr! I have no idea what is right. As a reader, too much detail irritates me.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Susanne Drazic said...

I haven't read any of these Sookie books you are talking about. Sound interesting. I think I'll have to check them out and see if they are my cup of tea.
: )

Shelley Sly said...

Interesting. I haven't read the Sookie Stackhouse books, but I've read others where the author describes the characters' outfits in each scene. I think wardrobe is one thing I tend to leave out, but I do try to include details that are important to getting to know a particular character.

Shain Brown said...

Spending too much time on clothing or unimportant objects, cars for instance, clouds the scenes purpose. Some things we as readers should be able to use our imagination with.

Phil said...

I love gossipy details in books, even if it's about secondary or tertiary characters. That one morsel of gossip can tell us everything we need to know about a character.

Peggy Eddleman said...

In most books, I don't love tons of description. I even have to remind myself to put more in when I'm writing! (And if I don't, I have one guy in my critique group that NEVER LETS ME LIVE IT DOWN.) Some books, though... Some books it's worth savoring.

Kate said...

Those little details are great - they show you so much about the character!

Talli Roland said...

I hate the waking up sequence that sometimes appears in the beginning of novels. I'm SO not interested in someone yawning.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I have got to get one of those books. (I love True Blood.)

Sometimes too many details will detract from the story. I've actually put down books before because of what seemed like non-essential details.

Tamara Narayan said...

I'm writing a book set in 1859 and the details consume a huge chunk of writing time. Every time a character opens their mouth, eats something, travels, whatever, I have to think very carefully about it. When I write my next one in contemporary times, it will be a breeze.

Details in things I read are fine as long as they don't drag on and on.

Barbara Kloss said...

What a cool post!

Oh, details, details...I love minimal details. Just hints where I know the author is entrusting me with information _I_ must filter. And while I love descriptions of scenery, if it's over the top I start skimming.

And I can't - CAN'T - live without romantic details :D
Great blog!...new follower :)

cherie said...

I always say it's about finding balance: too many unnecessary details can bog down a story while not enough can make your world seem flat and unappetizing.

Kelly said...

I've read just the first four or five of the Sookie series and those details never slowed me down. I like the description and the story always keeps moving!

Nicole Mc said...

I don't think details are one of my strengths. i always think of them...I just have trouble adding them without them sounding lame. lol

A.G. Wright said...

Details can be a hard thing to balance - like everything else in writing, but, you said it - details are invaluable at times and too many can drive us nuts. When I'm writing the first draft - brain is on overdrive to just get down information, so for me, I try to add the right details and descriptions in each scene in the revision process.

Anne N Kenny said...

I love watching True Blood but I haven't finished any of the novels yet. It wasn't due to detail though. I'd love to go back and try again when I have more time. The characters are just too awesome.

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