Sunday, May 23, 2010

Generality Is the Death of the Novel

Generality Is the Death of the Novel

Another great post by K.M. Weiland and one that is particularly pertinent to filling in the blanks in one's novel for the reader, or else making a character jump from flat to full. In this post the writer discusses how tiny, perhaps inconsequential details, make up the portrait of a scene or a character, filling it out and breathing life into those pages. Is it important that your character does certain things, likes a particular kind of biscuit with his tea, or has a penchant for scruffy tracksuits? You might not think so, but perhaps these tiny details add immeasurably to the back story you're trying to feed into the plot. Relook at your characters and get to know them as old friends, with all the quirks you already enjoy and love about your real old friends.

On the other hand, attention to detail can also drag down your plot or slow the action. A good guide line when considering piling on more detail is this: does it add to the plot? Does this figure in my readers' understanding of the story and the characters' motivations? If not, leave it out. I once began a book which I have no doubt would have been interesting, but I could not get past the first few chapters. The author took the reader on a painful journey from the moment the main character opened his eyes, through to the shower, into the kitchen, describing in minute detail how he made a cup of coffee, how long it took him to dress, his decisions on what socks to wear etc. Eventually I had to give up: I was drowning in minutae that had absolutely no bearing on the book. Unless, of course, the main character had obsessive compulsive disorder, but alas I didn't read long enough to find out.
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