Monday, May 2, 2011

Devils in the Details

Reaching the halfway point in my new novel has felt really good. I wanted to make sure that I had not left any holes in the previous chapters so I went through each one and looked. I came across one chapter in particular that I felt lacked a certain punch that the other chapters were delivering. It took a little time to figure out what it was. I went through the dialogue, checked to see if I was leaving out the necessary drama that should be built in each chapter; both were fine. I then realized as I reread the chapter that my description was flat. I was using a lot of generalities and not delving deep into the details.

This particular chapter takes place at a Latin nightclub and I had my two characters dancing a tango. In my original chapter I was using lines like "They moved across the floor in a whirl of spins and turns always meeting each other's gaze with deep intensity." Reading that simply does not come close to describing the movements found in a tango dance. So how did I rectify the situation? I studied. One of the greatest things about our current technological state is the amount of information we can find online, especially video. I went to You Tube and I watched and I watched and I watched some more. I found videos on teaching, found videos of tango competition, found montages of someone's favorite tango moves, it was everywhere and limitless and gave me the details I needed. After seeing everything I began to watch more intently with pad and paper in hand and each time I saw a particular move or flourish I would write it down in the best description I could to help rebuild the chapter.

So why are details important? Details make up the canvas of life. Details give us the basis of the opinions we make. Just as in the real world the written world that we create also needs to be filled with details that give each chapter life and help the reader suspend their reality and jump feet first into that world.
How much detail is enough? Enough so that someone other than the writer can see the scene as the writer envisioned it. Enough so that if you wrote: He had on expensive leather shoes that were more practical for the boardroom than the backwoods your reader can begin to take that detail and create a picture in their mind of who this person is. Small details when crafted correctly can allow for less writing and still give more description.

In the chapter I was working on I had made a mistake in the first writing, I was relying on own experience in ballroom dancing. These were two classes I took in college back in the 90's. That was a long time ago and although I recalled the good feeling of dancing across a floor I really wasn't able to recall to mind more specific details. Taking the time to refresh my memory by watching the You Tube videos helped me to create some really good word play like this from chapter nine of my new novel:  
            Doug took her right hand in his left and in a smooth motion moved their hands away from their bodies creating a space that would be theirs alone, a sovereign territory that no other couple on the dance floor would dare invade. 
And another:
Doug pushed Candice forward with his right hand letting go of hers with his left; his fingers sliding along her arm then her waist as she effortlessly glided by him moving out of his bodies contact until he took her right hand and forcibly stopped her departure. She froze on the beat, striking a pose: left hand on her hip, her face looking away from his, a look of an unsure lover about to walk out on the relationship. It lasted only two beats as he pulled her back to him, wrapping her around his body until on the eighth count she was clasping herself against his back, her arms running under his own; the palms of her hands grasping desperately to his chest, her head laid against his own lovingly, but his look held no desire for this woman. Doug’s eyes were caught in Sarah’s as she moved away from him, wrapping herself around her partner, feeling his body with her hands but never breaking eye contact with Doug.

So this week I would like to challenge you to try writing a descriptive action scene by doing the following:
  • Take the time to sit down and watch the action unfold. 
  • Take notes and try to describe the movements of the action in a way that the reader can picture it.
Next week I'll be posting new character biographies from my new novel and sharing some short stories so check back often!

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