Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like....

The holiday season has officially arrived in my house. Not only are the lights and the tree up, but I've had my first candy cane. The candy cane is one of those things were somehow the season just feels incomplete without it. It's like winter without a snowman, summer without a trip to the beach, Easter without the Cadbury Bunny. Egg nog is necessary too, though I am content to purchase that rather than make it.

It's those little details that sell the season for me. Granted, the commercials can run it into the ground, but I don't watch a whole lot of television anymore, so I miss most of that. Add to that I gained an appreciation for the Holiday Spirit after living abroad in a place where they didn't really celebrate it, and it's safe to say the Ghosts of Christmas don't need to be visiting me.

All of which reminded me of how adding the little details into your writing can really help sell a scene. Someone once commented that Stephen King does this really well, mostly with the sort of grounding details that make his stories more real, more relevant, like a TV guide on the nightstand of a character - usually right before said character gets carted off by the monsters. Getting those details right can be the difference between achieving verisimilitude and leaving your reader going "wait, that's not right."

I wrote before about movies getting things wrong, from the howl of a wolf in the Carolinas to the car that explodes every single time it drives off the cliff. But mostly we accept those. Even though we know they're wrong. It's like sounds in space: yeah, it should be completely quiet... but how boring would that be? (For the most part. Sometimes that quiet in space works really, really well.) Yet even when we accept them, for a brief moment they can take us out of the reality of the narrative.

Good details help keep you deep in that narrative, so that for all intents and purposes it's as real as it can get. (It shouldn't feel completely real to you, because then you've lost touch with reality. And while some people I know would make that argument about me, that's an entirely different topic.) This is where research helps, as well as that time-worn/honored piece of advice to "write what you know."

So for me, if the story takes place during the holidays, there ought to be a candy cane in sight somewhere.

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