Sunday, July 3, 2011

Level of Detail

While I still read for pleasure, I read differently than I used to.  I've gotten pickier about what I'm willing to put up with in someone's writing and I pay attention to writers' pacing and level of detail.  I've never been extremely verbose and my personal writing tends to focus only on relevant details.  When I'm reading (or writing) the middle of a tense action scene, the last thing I really want to know is what the furniture in the room is like.  If the furniture plays a part due to its configuration, that's great, and it's important.  I don't usually find a need to know the style of the furniture, where it was made, where it was bought, what fabric it is, how many vases there are, is the rug oriental or is it carpet, while there's a man about to shoot somebody in the scene.

What I find interesting in my own writing is choosing a level of detail that's appropriate for the story and the scene.  Even more difficult is choosing a method for covering the time period involved.  For stories that take place over years, deciding on the best, and most interesting, way to convey that passage in a clear manner, and keep the story moving is a real challenge.

As I sit here in my family room on a quiet Sunday morning, alone before my family wakes up, I'm struck by the two sides of the room.  My side has a couple of books stacked on the glass-surrounded-by-oak coffee table.  Yesterday's newspaper lays in a neat pile with the crossword puzzle, half completed, on top.  On the side of the room where my daughter usually sits, a pile of papers and a heap of blankets and pillows sit in disarray on the brown and black-flecked, three person, sofa under the double window overlooking the bushes and pond in the background.  But, that doesn't really have anything to do with this post.

I'm currently reading 'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King.  Like the last book I read by him, Cujo, I'm struck by the incredible level of detail he includes for the back story of his characters.  It doesn't seem forced or irrelevant; it simply "is".  The characters and the overall story are richer for it.  There's a depth to his world that enhances the story.  By contrast, I just finished Ghost Country, by Patrick Lee.  Here the details and back story are only what's necessary to the action.  The story must keep flying forward or he'll lose momentum.

These are two ends of a spectrum in detail and pacing, but have been very enlightening as I work on my own story craft.