Sunday, October 12, 2008

Good Is In The Details....

I stole that from Pepperidge Farm. In the context of their commerical the details refers to cookies in ruffled paper cups and bread that is -- not kidding -- slow baked. Because there's another kind?

But I was thinking about that commercial and not, I repeat, NOT about Milano cookies and how it fits writing. I just finished Eve Kenin's latest Shomi - Hidden. Another fantastic read. But in that book, good is TOTALLY in the details and should be a lesson to all of us. The book is about medical/genetic experimentation gone wrong and the characters talk like scientists. They use medical and chemical words which could totally be made up, but it doesn't matter. The book is set in the future and food has new names, guns have new names, snow mobiles have new names -- and those names are used without explanation. It's world building to the hundredth power. And it works. But I think it might also be one of those tools that in the wrong hands, becomes overkill. Tara Janzen has gone that way for me recently. Knowing how much world to build is intuitive. Another thing we are supposed to learn, I guess.

It's the exact opposite of the legal drama I tried to read right after when every one's role in the case was really non-descript and their titles were pretty vague. Now, I am so guilty of this -- wall paper world building, rip away the minimum effort I made, and it's nothing. The world is gone.

The details are totally see through. Not Good.

You can apply this Good is in the Details maxim to every aspect of your characters. Those little minute details that WORK - that make you characters breathe. In Eve's book, her hero is trying hard to believe in some zen philosophy - so he's spouting it - most of the time without much conviction and when we just meet him -- it totally works. Tara Janzen had a book, not the last one but the one before, when the heroine climbs out of a jacuzzi. Janzen gives us the rundown of her great body, the pile of blond hair on her head, but the detail that clinches the CHARACTER is she takes a paper umbrella out of a drink, licks the stem and tucks it in her hair, along with about three other umbrellas. Excellent details that tell us she's had a few and is used to having a few.

But then the other night husband and I watched the Californication premiere. A show I LOVED last year. And I realized how the Good is the in details rule can backfire. Hank is still Hank, the characters are still fantastic, the hi jinks very zany -- the details - perfect. But there is 100% no core. It's all wrong. details do not a story make. This year of Californication also proves that happy characters do not make for exciting story telling. Hank is just way too happy.

Anyway -- thanks Pepperidge Farm for the cookies and writing insight. And thanks Eve Kenin for another great book.


Sinead M said...

Great post, Molly. Love the details thing, a part that shows the writer knows their world and something I'm terrible at.
And am totally bored by Californication this year... it seems so much of the same as last year..

Although am starting to LOVE Tru blood, for all the secondary characters.

Maureen McGowan said...

I agree, great post.

And about Californication... I was actually disappointed when I heard it was coming back for a second season. Not because I didn't love it last season, but because I couldn't see how they'd make it work. That first season was a huge character arc for Hank and to make him unhappy, as you say, you'd need to rip him out of that marriage and every viewer wants to see him with her. The sexual tension between those two characters is what really drove a lot of the first season... So, the writers are in a catch 22. Boring if Hank and Karen are together, but viewers will hate it if you tear them apart. (Plus it will feel redundant.)

And back to your topic... It is so hard to know when you've done enough world building. Also to know how much to explain. I think that you'll never please every reader, but we have to strive to write the kind of books we love to read.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Seriously - this is the best writing blog out there. Thanks for this and all the posts... from all of you... ever... and ever...

And since you haven't mentioned one of my new favorites (at some point you've already mentioned my others)... check out Pushing Daisies.

From a romance angle it's fairly cliche. A hero and heorine because of circumstances can't ever touch or she dies.

But it's done so well, and the telling of it is very melodic. Costumes in this show count. And I can't remember when that's happened.

There's no real need to find the "answer" so they can touch. We're just watching as they build a relationship without it. (And solving goofy murders along the way.)

Another example of what I would call the "details" that make it so good.


Maureen McGowan said...

Stephanie! You are so right about Pushing Daisies. Without the over-the-top details like the embellished eye-patches and the neon-bright nun wimples that show would seem dumb, but the details create a fairy-tale-within-reality world that the viewer believes in. Even things like those boxes they sell the pies in. The boxes themselves would be worth more than a pie, so would be an annoying-pull-you-out-of-the-story detail in any other kind of show, but for that show it's a reminder of the fairy-tale nature of the world.

And the romance is so sweet, too. I'd never thought before that they could have gone the route of making it about solving the problem of them not being able to touch. You're right, they just accept it. It's sweet and shows that love isn't just about the physical. (even if that only works in fairy-tale land, too...)

Kimber Chin said...

Totally off topic
but I was having a good giggle.
I can never remember the url
for Drunk Writer
so I always google drunk writer.
This site is number two
but number one?
Top Ten Drunk American Writers

Dang, there's a list for everything,
isn't there?

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