Everyone loves action – readers and writers – we all want the Good Stuff, but then there’s Reality, you know, the boring bits, the bits we want to keep short and sweet so they won’t be boring bits, otherwise known (to me, anyway) as the Other Stuff, the necessary detail that hold reality together.
Description. Exposition. Backdrop stuff.
Detail counts, you can say a lot with a mundane detail. By that I mean something short, a word here or a sentence there, I don’t mean every single detail. One or two will do it without exaggerating the whole to the extent it takes over the story.
How much information did you need to realize that lovely Sasha is basically an empty-headed, big-busted nymphomaniac and every teenage boy’s pinup dream girl? You didn’t need (and didn’t get) her life history, a handful of lines and you got the lot, dimples, nudity, goddess proportions, everything.
How long did it take you to realize that Sevi was a woman not to be messed with, a level-headed and cold-blooded killing machine?
Okays, so they’re not the boring bits.
How about the road teams? The Good Guys and the Bad Guys aren’t just sitting around waiting for the fight to start, right? What are they DOING? They are working, that’s what, they are collecting merchandise and delivering essentials to the towns and other settlements on a newly colonized world. Their job gives them their situation and enables the circumstances that brings about adventure. Great. That means that detail can’t be neglected, although it doesn’t actually matter what it is they are delivering or picking up. There’s enough there that spells out long distance and isolation, that’s all that’s needed.
Tribe or Clan works in there, too, of course.
That’s book 1 (but by no means all of book 1, whatever you do, don’t go away thinking THAT).
In book 2 you get Mij, thirteen years old. What tells you that she is in a survival situation? Is it the fact I’ve said that the Chiddran planet Seppa is in the process of falling to the Khekarians, or is it the mass exodus of anything that can fly as seen from Scorpio, Raoul’s ship in Seppa’s orbit? Or is it simply that Mij is on the ground, a kid out in the cold rain setting traps for food?
At the other end of the spectrum, we have royalty. In a clash of two empires, you’re going to have them. Surprise, surprise, Kings and Queens are people, too. In real life, they don’t just sit on their assets all day, screaming at the servants or picking the largest gem in the box, there’s actually an awful lot of tedious work involved, nonstop, day in day out, much of it to do with paperwork and diplomacy.
What I want to capture with the sort of detail I’m talking about is a sense of that essential reality that forms the base, the backdrop, the lives of the people I’m writing about. An unrelated example: You get a better sense of a waitress’s working life if you know she has sore feet.
Yes, you probably guessed it, I’m stuck in the middle of working out some of that tedious stuff for book 3.
How many rooms do you get on one floor in one wing of a small palace? Is it important? Actually, yes, given the situation – and no, I’m not going to tell you. The realistic answer is a few at least and can be pretty much any number, depending on design and layout.
That’s annoying because now I have to think.
You know, it’s just so much more exciting to play with exciting bits and dream up action…
…Yeah, yeah, I know. Back to work.
Cheers, all. Happy typing (or whatever you do).