DETAILS! DETAILS! Success Lies in the Details!
By Phylis Warady
Successful authors of fiction take care to pick and chose pertinent details that either help make their chosen settings and characters more plausible and/or advance the plot.
To paraphrase Chekhov, "If you place a gun on the wall above the mantle, make sure it fires." Advice that begs the question: Is this an unbreakable rule? No, it¹s not. Any rule is meant as a guideline. The difference between a novice and a pro is that the pro knows why the rule exists before she consciously breaks it. Whereas, the novice isn¹t aware she¹s defying a sensible guideline and thus, more often than not, winds up with a mess on her hands. Any specific detail included in a scene should be used in some manner. Otherwise, it has no business there.
Conversely, an author must not exclude pertinent details from the fictional world she creates simply because said detail exists in the real world.
For instance, at the onset of my career, I asked a published novelist to vet my proposal (synopsis plus sample chapters) before submission to the targeted market. The veteran author took exception to the rattlesnake's presence in the second chapter.
I argued my plot needed the rattlesnake. Besides, it was a well-known fact that rattlesnakes were common in the chosen locale.
Neither argument swayed my mentor. She insisted I add a line of dialogue to an earlier scene set in a country store, in which a native to the area remarks that the rattlers are 'all-fired' restless this season. This single line placed the rattler 'within' not 'outside' the fictional world I'd created.
Most of us recall Grade B Westerns in which the cavalry never mentioned or glimpsed beforehand appears out of the blue to ride to the rescue at the very last minute. Such clumsy contrivance begs for a more deft sleight of hand.
Foreshadowing is the technical term for planting something early on, without undue fanfare, until its moment to shine. A useful technique to be added to the novice author's toolbox. The seasoned author knows better than to assume any collective knowledge on the part of potential readers. So before the cavalry rides, the gun fires or the rattler rattles, be sure to establish their respective presence well be fore needed within the fictional world you create.
Details! Details! Success is in the Details! was previously published by FELLOWSCRIPT (Canadian) in 2002, under the title: Creating the Fictional World. Under it's present title in 2004 by The Writers' Journal.
Phylis Warady's articles on the writing craft have been widely published in the USA, Canada and England. A partial list of publishers include: The Writer, Inc., Novelists' Ink, Romance Writers' Report, Writer's Journal, Writer's Connection, The Pen Woman, Working Writer, Canadian Writer's Journal and Fellowscript.
In addition her award-winning short fiction appears regularly in literary journals and magazines. Her short story, A Deathly Chill, is slated for appearance in the 2006 Dan River Anthology. Ms. Warady is also the author of one anthology and five historical novels published by Walker and Company and Kensington Publishing Corp.