Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Details--The Long and Short of It

I do love a detail. I feel cheated when a character in a book I'm reading has a birthday and I don't get to know what all the presents are. Consequently, since I don't want to cheat the readers I hope to have one day, I give them detail. If there's a party scene, I want to tell about the presents, the decorations, the food, the booze, and everybody's reaction to all of it. Since I love dialogue, I also want to include several sections of conversation about the party between secondary characters—some that I have just made up on the spot. Plotter loves a detail too. She calls it needing the information to make the movie in her head. She, however, has a more realistic view of how much of this nonsense a reader can tolerate.

I blame my mother. She loved details and loved to relate them. For instance, when she went out to lunch and shopping with friends, she would not only tell me what everyone ate and bought, but what they almost ate and bought. Then, she would go into everyone's opinion of all these consumptions and purchases. Finally, she would tell me what they were going eat and buy next time. Sound excruciating? It wasn't. It made me what I am today: A loquacious slave to detail. You notice, I didn't say the world was a better place for it.

This is particularly on my mind right now because Plotter and I are editing our work in progress. This means that the Word Count Monster is haunting me day and night. I've heard people say excitedly, "I just lack ten pages!" With us, it's more like, "We only have ten pages left! Please, God, let us get through the story!"

This is our first foray in the world of category fiction and all the brevity it brings. We can only have 60,000 words. Last month, Smarty Pants, over at the Writing Playground said to me, "You? 60,000 words? Not going to happen." (Notice I did not say where we were and what we were wearing when she said that to me. I'm making progress.)

The manuscript is done now—from the first sign of conflict, through everybody's black moment, to happily ever after, and epilogue. Word count: 62,133. Plotter's got her summer aqua gel pen out and is hard at work. In truth, the word count in probably fine. It's only a little over and those who know, say not to get too wrapped around the axle about it. But I know what Plotter is thinking: "If I give her an inch, she'll take a mile." She's probably right.

Do you like a lot of detail? Do you tend to write long or short?


  1. Sorry, I tend to "scribble-read" (my mother's term for me skipping words) when I am faced with a lot of details in a book. I just want to get to the meat of the story and not be bothered with a lot of descriptions. It drives my husband, who is a stickler for minutia, insane but it's how I am. I know I am in the minority here; most people love reading intricate details and savoring the eloquence of the writer. Not me. I always think of Sherlock Holmes who said (paraphrased because the quote was too long- LOL) "Thank you for the detail now I shall endeavor to forget it." I am hopelessly in a hurry all the time, except when I write; then I join you in wanting to give details. Sounds insane doesn't it? I don't read details but I WRITE them...oxymoronic anyone?

    I do over-write (is that a word?) and try to explain too much. I apologized to an category editor, who requested my book, about it going over the word count (about like yours) and she simply smiled and said "It gives me more to cut." If that makes you feel better...

  2. As a category writer who once wrote an 800 page medieval romance, I feel your pain. Learning to write short and tight was a challenge -- and yet it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I like detail, but I tend to skip reams of it when reading. It's just not necessary to me. It's padding (sorry!).

    Naturally, I've learned what to leave out as I've now written 6 full length short contemporaries and 1 novella for Harlequin. I give enough detail to set the scene, and then I focus on the meat: what's going on between the characters. Their dialogue, both spoken and internal, is the most important thing happening on the page.

    You probably are fine with your extra words. My line is 50k, but I know I can go up to 55k and not be asked to cut. I've turned in books that go right up to that line -- and one that was almost 10k shorter.

    I wouldn't worry about 2k, really. But I would make sure any of those extra details are really needed. If they're just too much fluffy window dressing, pull them down and let the light shine in. ;)

  3. Panster, my mother relays excruciating details like that, as well, so I can relate to that. I haven't found a good use for that experience, though, but I am very appreciative of cordless phones, so I can Windex the house while I hear about what people ate, almost ate, chose not to eat, and then their opinion on the food, the waitperson, and let's not forget further details about what the baby at the next table looked like, was wearing, eating, and what her name was and how old she was. Perhaps I am using this experience to observe details in the shadows and shades of color in the objects I paint?

  4. I tend to bounce from one thing to another. When I am struggling with the story and the people, I tend to describe everything. (Like a camera lense starting high up then zooming in).

    Sometimes, though, I have a scene that I want to get written and I will forgo the detail to make sure the dialogue is written.

    I think what I am is in between--I can write short if I have to, but I prefer not to. I'm a "medium writer" (but that may be a delusion on my part.)

    And I'm with you, if a writer mentions a birthday party with presents, I want to KNOW what they received, who gave it, and why.

  5. Cheryl--I think you said something that might help me. When I want to provide a lot of details, I'll visualize someone skipping page after page....

    Lynn--800 pages? I could do that. Thanks for the advice. I agree that this has been a great exercise in learning to write tight. I have also learned that just because I need to know something about the characters, the readers doesn't necessarily have to know it. I really wanted to kill everyone's parents.

    Michelle--Maybe you should paint while you listen, though it might turn out to be abstract art!

    M.V.--I love dialogue and, strangely enough, that's the one place where I've had to learn to interject more detail. I am so concerned with what the characters are saying that I tend or forget I need to paint a picture of what is going on. The end result--a movie script and a bad one.

  6. I do love a detail, but I don't want to get bogged down in them.

    Pantster is sooo right, I AM reading and using my summer colored gel ink to marginate. She knows me so well and/or I am very predictable. :-)

  7. I've figured out we can subtract 41 words for the use of the words epilogue, chapter (20 times, plus the corresponding spelled out numbers that go with chapter.

  8. I love a detail, too, especially when I am not the one who has to relay it. I am a woman of few words and a poor memory. Thus, I am a better listener than story-teller. Good thing I have authors in my life.