Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Details, details, details

Set in Los Angeles, teacher Brenda Finnegan and her animal trainer boyfriend Bob Zebrinski witness a kidnapping. Brenda decides she must do what she can to find the people behind the crime and the victim's subsequent murder.

Question from the e-mail:  People in my writing group keep asking me about my details and talking about symbolism.  I hate to admit it, but I've no idea what they are getting at. Can you help?

Answer: Everything mentioned in a story takes on weight. And description of the details you choose to mention can, and often does, often contribute to the kind of characters and actions you are describing, as well as to the "mood" of a scene.

If, for instance, you mention a chair, the kind of chair you describe can contribute a lot to the reader's idea about your character. If your young ambitious character is just home from work, he might want to relax in  his "easy chair." But if you describe a Lazy-Boy, that gives them one idea. If you choose to give him a rocking chair, that's the favorite chair of another kind of man. If he slides into his desk chair, fires up the computer and checks his 3-mail, that's still another kind of man...

Everything you mention in any story takes on weight. And color is important to symbolize mood, as well. If it's a  happy scene, it might be an orange or yellow chair, an angry scene would probably have a red or black chair, a sad one, a blue chair...see what I mean.

There's an old writing teacher's story about the Russian writer, Anton Checkov, who allegedly told his students, "If you hang a gun on the wall in the dining room, the story won't be over until someone fires that gun."

What this means, essentially, is that a writer must choose small details carefully. Don't  hang any guns, unless you plan to use them. Don't try to describe everything, but when you do, choose carefully and make it count it count.

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