Monday, February 04, 2008

I have an appointment this afternoon to join another member of our library foundation board at a framing shop. I’ve served on the Alachua County (Florida) Library District Foundation board for years, and our purpose is to raise one million dollars for our library endowment fund.

So why am I going to a frame shop? Because one of my tasks on the board was to oversee renovation of our meeting room at the Headquarters Library. The space was industrial and utilitarian, and what we wanted was a board room–a place that made people feel when they walked in that it was more than functional, it was attractive. Attractive rooms make people more relaxed, and we hope that translates into not only a nice meeting space for us, but also a room that will help potential donors see our organization as successful and worthy of bequests.

At the frame shop I’ll have to weigh in with my opinion on matting, framing the art for our board room, the lighting, the colors in the board room, etc. These details make the difference between something that makes someone respond positively, and something that jars their sensibilities.

This doesn’t come naturally to me, in decorating or in writing. At home, I’d hire a professional. In my writing, I write myself notes. I can be pounding away at a tense scene full of luscious dialog and I’ll have to stop and write in brackets [SOUNDS! SMELLS! SIGHT!] to remind myself to go back and fill in the details that make a scene work.

See, I know what it looks like in my head. You, the reader, may not. Not until I add all the little things that make a scene well rounded, that contribute to your understanding of who the characters are and what’s motivating them.

This is also useful when you don’t want to interrupt the flow of the story with details that absolutely, positively can be filled in later. I do this most with clothing. Unless there’s a pivotal plot point revolving around a piece of clothing (like the neckerchief that hides the lack of an “Adam’s apple” in a cross-dressing story), I can go back and fill it in later. So my first rough draft has things like “She studied her [BALL GOWN] in the mirror while debating whether or not to wear the [JEWELRY, SHAWL?] and thought about what she had say to him tonight…”

Clearly, what matters here in the big picture is what she’s going to say to him tonight. But the details! The reader wants to know what she’s wearing, and it makes a difference. Is it demure? Sexy? Finely tailored or hastily altered? All of these details make a difference, but you don’t necessarily need to agonize over them right away–you can revisit them later.

It’s not the devil in the details, it’s the beauty of your writing. If there’s a devil in this mix, it’s allowing yourself to get slowed down by the details. Just remember to go back and revisit them, and the details will help the reader respond positively to your story,

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