Sunday, May 09, 2010

It’s All in the Details

There are so many things to think about when you're writing a book--plot, characters, POV, opening hooks, chapter hooks, dialogue, narrative, show-don't tell, and on and on. Well, here's one more--the mood of the story.

I'm not talking genre, like romance, mystery, horror, suspense, etc. A Romance can be eerie and gothic. Horror can be humorous. A Thriller can be tongue-in-cheek. By mood, I'm talking atmosphere of the book.

Think about the atmosphere you want to create for the plot, the characters, the setting. Then establish that mood through your use of details, the way you put words and sentences together, your use of the senses.

A character walks down a long hallway, dark and quiet. A clock sounds. Is it the deep bass bonging of a grandfather clock? Or is it the shrill clucking of a coo-coo clock?

The setting of a scene is a lawyer's office. How do you, as the writer, furnish the room? Big, heavy furniture; lots of wood; a Tiffany desk lamp? Is that all? Or is there, hidden among the knick-knacks, a worn-leather book on ancient incantations? One thing that throws the scene, the atmosphere, off-kilter.

Your character goes to church. What kind of church is it? You can't just say it's a big fancy church--you have to show us. And what you show us about this church sets the mood. Do we see the long pews, the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows? Do we see a rubber duckie floating in the baptismal tank? Is the choir dressed in royal blue with white collars, or ill-fitting faded purple robes? Does conversation come to a deadly stop when a certain character enters? Does a cell phone ring during the sermon and we see a head of curly brown hair slide down in the pew?

Details, details.

Make them count.
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  1. Details, and how they are given to the reader, are really what make or break the story. The same idea can be brilliant or really just ordinary depending on them. And getting the details wrong can send your reader into a spin.
    Thanks for an interesting post and reminding us all how important those details are.

  2. It's wonderful when a picture of a room pops into the mind and its just what you want. The sub concious mind is so very clever at producing the right thing at the right time. Oh, that cuckkoo clock would be so wrong for so many stories!

  3. Great points on establishing mood, Helen!

    I like your rubber duckie in the baptismal font. :) Ha!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. Great advice. One of my struggles is to keep the mood of the book constant even when *my* mood changes while writing it!

  5. A wonderful reminder! It's way too easy to forget the details or gloss over them.

  6. Great reminder, Helen. I definitely need to be more detail-oriented!

  7. Details do keep a reader's attention. The story can be great, but if there's no atmosphere it does fall a little flat.

    Happy Mother's Day.

    Thoughts in Progress

  8. Great points. I need to keep this nearby.

    When were you in my church? Or maybe our pranksters just church-hop. lol

    Giggles and Guns

  9. Brilliant post! Description of atmosphere is something I've been trying to work on lately, this post will prove a handy reference.

  10. Great point. I sometimes think mood is everything.

  11. Wonderful reminder, Helen. I love to read passages in books that have these types of telling details.

  12. Something important to consider.

    And I'd like to go to the church with a rubber duck in the Baptism tank!

  13. It's the details that can make a difference, and I'm one that has to go back and make sure I put them in.

  14. Nicely said, Helen. Mood binds all the other elements into a consistent whole.

  15. Thanks for the reminder, Helen!

  16. So that's where I left Mister Ducky!

    That was a good, informative post, Helen.


  17. Don't worry, Bob, Mr. Ducky is having fun.

  18. It sounds like you're in the thick of a work-in-progress! Hope it's going well.

  19. Mmm, it seems I should work out a list of adjectives that describe atmosphere...

    Steamy Darcy

  20. Excellent point. I love finding that perfect detail that just makes the setting come alive. It's one of the great joys of writing for me.

  21. Great post. Also, it's the quality of the detail, not the quantity. Too much detail and the reader will fall asleep ;)


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