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Friday, August 23, 2013

How to Celebrate Small Things in Your Next Book


My grandmother always said, "The Devil's in the details." Details = SMALL THINGS, like dates and times and names spelling correctly. The T's you must cross.

I didn't really understand what she meant until later when I had a job that was filled with nothing but those SMALL THINGS. If I messed up--didn't hit a deadline or didn't schedule something when I was supposed to--I met the Devil and he wasn't pretty.



Fortunately, that job is gone, but another one, one that has just as many SMALL THINGS is now mine.





I'm what people call a WRITER. 

One thing I've learned (the hard way, of course) is that details not only have the Devil in them, they have the spark that can give a story some zing. (Did you notice this clever segue?) See what you think of these passages and their details.

* Here are some excellent details about how one character views another.

 I like your looks. You’re tall, your face isn’t exactly handsome, but it’s better than that. It’s interesting. I like that small sexy scar on your chin. I like the way your lips move when you smile, the expressions in your eyes, as if you feel a lot of things you don’t talk about. [Rock 'n Roll Suicide, West]

* Sometimes it's only a single word that snaps the picture into focus. Here's an example of that from the obscure book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabzn.

". . .and the floor was covered with hundreds of squashy purple sleeping bags." [Rowling]

*This one makes me hungry all the time I'm learning to care about the character and what her life will turn out to be.

From a street vendor, Rasheed bought her ice cream. It was the first time she'd eaten ice cream and Mariam had never imagined that such tricks could be played on the palate. She devoured the entire bowl, the crushed-pistachio topping, the tiny rice noodles at the bottom. She marveled at the bewitching texture, the lapping sweetness of it. [A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini]

Do you have any favorite passages that sparkle because of some word or phrase, just the right detail to bring that character or that setting to life?

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47 comments:

  1. I'd have to look. It is those little things that bring a story to life.

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  2. Sometimes they're hard to identify because they ARE so small...
    (There is a line from a poem that is quoted by Dorothy Sayers as the perfect description:

    'A rose-red city, half as old as time...'

    Hm. Perfect. I can see it...
    (Have a great weekend!)

    Diana at About Myself By Myself

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    1. So perfect, Diana. A great example of what I'm talking about.

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  3. The Night Circus has so many enviable passages and words; it's one of the most beautifully written books I've read recently.

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    1. I don't know it, but I'm noting it. Thanks,

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  4. I can't think of any off the top of my head but now you have me wanting to go look. Love the Harry Potter example. But then I love everything about Harry Potter LOL.

    Great topic. Have a good weekend, Lee. :)

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    1. Harry is fascinating. Hope your weekend is great as well.

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  5. I can't think of any right now, but it's often a flow of little descriptive words that bring a book to life.

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    1. When the author gets it right it makes me sit up and pay attention.

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  6. I wish I could pull one from the top of my head, but my brain is not cooperating lol! However, the ones you mentioned, oh how beautiful they are :-)

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    1. Thanks, Angela. It is hard to find just the right word or phrase, isn't it?

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  7. I do have favorite passages... I must go looking for them though lol

    Love this post though. It is so true and the little details are exactly what helps the overall story come to life. Enjoy your weekend ;)

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    1. I'm looking for those passages and those words more and more! Thanks for the visit, S.K.

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  8. Love this post! The details are so important. Just one right word makes all the difference. Have a great weekend!

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    1. They are important and getting them just right is so hard for me. What's too little? What's too much? Ah, the life of a writers.

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  9. Whoa, what a spooky picture!! I have tons of favorite details but here's one I recently read: 'The words were strung together in the air like garland. She could almost see them'...The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

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    1. I must look. Words strung together like garland has to be worth reading. Thanks.

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  10. I say that to my homeschooled kids all the time - The devil is in the details! Now I wonder if they understand what I am talking about :)

    Rhonda@laugh-quotes
    (I am visiting from the blog hop.)

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  11. Getting the details right can determine whether the reader buys into your story. And getting the exact words can determine whether it comes alive for them. I try to get both right. :)

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  12. These are so good. I like to read a scene that paints a vivid picture for me so I feel like I'm there with the characters.

    Can't think of any at the moment. It's late, brain is tired.

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    1. Painting the picture is so important. Great way to say it, Beverly.

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  13. "It was vintage New Orleans, the little establishment. Overhead fans churned lazily, and the floor had not been cleaned in a hundred years." ~ Anne Rice, MERRICK

    I always try to capture the atmosphere of a place in a few evocative lines. More often than not, I fail. But I keep trying. :-)

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  14. These are such great examples. JK Rowling has such a way with words. I thought A Thousand Splendid Suns was so powerful and I loved rereading the example. The small details are so important. :)

    Happy weekend!
    ~Jess

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    1. I try to learn from the best. Thanks, Jess.

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  15. I love those little details that let you experience along with the character or you are able to picture the scene perfectly in your mind!

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  16. Those little details really count. They help pull me into a story.

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  17. "What is a blog hop?
    Get the code here..."

    Can you believe I just submitted another award winning comment, only to accidentally wipe it out? Of course, being gone three thirty in the morning, I don't mind starting over again.

    It was a most detailed comment. Something like if I just copied and pasted the comments above, job done.

    Details are good. And correct details in so far as when research is required. I was helping out a dude with his manuscript. His main character, whatever you call one of those, was taking a flight from London to Los Angeles. He said it was a distance of 10,000 miles. I informed him that somebody reading his story might realise he got that wrong and the incorrect detail would ruin the reader's experience with his story. So what's the flight distance between London and Los Angeles on average, based on the flight path? Glad you asked. It's approximately 5500 miles.

    My favourite, or favorite, if we have to spell incorrectly, passages, as an example would be,

    'Do you like
    green eggs and Hamlet
    I do not like them,
    Spam-I-am.
    I do not like
    Green eggs and Hamlet.'

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    1. Alas I'm so pleased you straightened out your friend on that mileage deet. My goodness he'd be sending his characters around the world.

      I'm especially pleased you fixed Dr. Seuss, He never did have that passage right. You are amazing!

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  18. "He was the lightest thing there, the one they called the black doctor" From Niamh Boyce's The Herbalist.

    My jaw still drops at this sentence. So many things swirl in my head! My world is turned upside down! :-) Take care
    x

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    1. In these details there are meanings and meanings. Beautiful.

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  19. Those special sentences are everywhere!

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  20. I actually don't really remember particular passages. Tend to keep plots and characters in mind. However, I know that neither would have been as memorable if the writer hadn't paid attention to detail with the description. :-)

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    1. I guess I'm so in love with language that if the plot sucks I'm good as long as someone schmoozes me with the sound and rhythm of the right words.

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  21. One of my favorites:
    “He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.”
    ― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
    Perfect detail of a relationship!

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  22. It's amazing what difference one choice word in the right place can make.

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  23. A great post. I read A Thousand Splendid Suns, and he's a great writer. The Kite Runner is excellent. In high school, I used to mark in books my favorite lines and note the page numbers on the inner and back covers. When I had bookshelves of my favorite books, I'd stare at the titles, remembering the stories, take one down and look over those favorite passages. That practice of marking those favorite lines stopped in college.

    (requesting FB likes) Nancy’s Facebook page

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  24. Details do matter. While reading if some small detail jar-it throws me out of the story.

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  25. What a great post and you are so right the details do matter, they really bring a scene to life.

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