Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's All in the Details

I had an epiphany lying in the bath reading Agatha Christie about two weeks ago. This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened reading her. The story was being told by one of Miss Marple’s friends and the details she shares with Miss Marple are such an insight into her character. Now of course I knew this, but sometimes you need to see it done so beautifully that you can spot where your difficulty with a scene lies. I was working on writing a scene that I had avoided in draft one of Penderown. It is an emotionally painful scene and to be honest I avoid them where I can, but that of course cheats the reader.

So here I was lying in the bath reading 4:05 from Paddington when I realized I hadn’t picked the right details out for Demi's state of mind or her personality. Once I saw this it was easier to write the scene. I didn’t have to tell how she was feeling – it was there in the details.

So this is the view from where I’m sitting as I write this…if I were to describe this scene in front of me what would I chose to highlight? If I was Maddie in A Cornish House it would be the bluebell because she is so drawn to the colour but if it was her step-daughter, Serena, it would be the small scented jonquil.

These small spotlights that we choose can actually make writing much easier. Here’s the opening paragraph of A Cornish House

It was nearly eleven and Maddie had been behind the wheel of the car for over ten hours. She
yawned and forced her eyes open wider. Slowing the car she approached yet another blind
bend. Moonlight silhouetted the twisted trees against the sky. Their tortured shapes rose from
the hedges, forming a tunnel. It seemed to be closing in around them. A shiver went down her
spine. The engine stuttered.

Can you tell Maddie’s state of mind? What she sees is an easy way to show and not tell.

Do you think about the details you chose or are they free flowing? In my rough drafts I don’t consider them at all. It’s only in the revision process that I know my characters better and can see through their eyes.
Please drop by on Thursday to find out what Biddy has on her mind…


  1. Interesting and thought provoking post, thanks, Liz.

  2. I think I'm the same - I don't think about it while doing the first draft, I just write. But while revising, things like that stand out more clearly and it's possible to be more objective somehow and stand back a little from the story. Love the excerpt!

  3. Great excerpt, I can't wait to read the rest of the book!

    Such beautiful photos. I've taken some lovely pictures of my garden this week.

  4. Details. Details... I hate them but I'm coming to realise how important they are.

  5. Thanks Janice.

    Christina - pleased I'm not lone :-)

    Thanks Debs.

    They are important, Biddy. You will see the light!