The Drive for Detail

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Artful shot of vegetable ingredients: potatoes, eans, garlic, green pepper, oil, leek and a reddish pumpkin. All the ingredients are laid out on a wooden table.

My Samhain stew : Potaje de garbanzos by Enric Martinez CC 3.0 flickr.com/photos/runlevel0/6297899157

I’m not really a detail-obsessed person. I often cook with a recipe in front of me but, about halfway through, forget that I’m doubling it. I’ve triple-checked a recipe to make sure I’ve added all the ingredients only to overlook the salt. Teaspoon, tablespoon…poe-tay-toe, poe-tah-toe.

This is why it’s strange that I was so obsessed with the details in one of my stories. A character needed to travel between two settings more than once in a constrained time-frame. I Google-mapped the drive and figured out that if my MC finished a scene by X, she would be on the road by Y and that meant she’d get in (with bathroom breaks and stops to fill up the tank) at Z. Hours, days…I was scheduling this story to a bizarre degree. I’d throw in the day or time to let readers know that I was on top of things. And just so the reader didn’t think my MC teleported, I’d mention the drive and the time and…boy was it distracting and boring.

I know I needed to log a lot of that as back story (information that only I need to know in order to make sure that the story flows). But  was still itching to put it in, which is weird because I complained loudly, to anyone who would listen, that there was too much travel detail in Lord of the Rings (I understand I am probably alone on this).

On the other hand, I loved the 100-some pages in The Hunchback of Notre Dame that described in painstaking century-by-century detail of how Paris was built (again, probably alone on this). Not travel related, but talk about detail-obsessed.

Have you ever found yourself bogged down by the need to tell a detail you really should have kept to yourself?

And do you have a recommendation for a book that has a lot of moving around…that’s done well?

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11 thoughts on “The Drive for Detail

  1. Kim

    “Have you ever found yourself … tell(ing) a detail you really should have kept to yourself?”

    Yes, when my lips are moving. Stuff just spews out. Smiling.

  2. Yes, every time I try to change scenes!
    I have TONS of WIP’s that are basically various scenes that I can’t string together because of the transition details. Every time I try, literary oatmeal seeps from my screen… and I put it off again. That’s why I’ve stuck with very short stories on my hubby’s blog as a guest writer.

    As for the book, I know it’s not great literature, but the Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison has one book (Pale Demon) that is one long road trip. She seems pretty good at changing locations in her other books as well.

  3. My characters are always sharing looks etc. because I can see them in my head but I am sure that any readers I might have will be rolling their eyes by the time I come to the third description of looks exchanged between two characters. It takes the flow out of the story, I know that, but I can’t seem to help it. Argh.
    Other than that, I suffer more from a lack of detail and research. I am always too anxious to get writing so I tend to skip the part where I make the details fit. I could learn a thing or two from the likes of Bill Bryson, I’m sure.

    • I don’t think sharing looks is bad. It would certainly illustrate how well your characters know each other.

      Being taken out of the flow of the story is bad…there must be a way to do with while keeping the flow.

  4. When I get the need to add unnecessary detail, usually, I have to do it. Write it all out until I can’t come up with anything else–then mercilessly cut what doesn’t help the flow of the story. Then my muse is happy and the flow isn’t interrupted…Getting it out might lead to a different direction with the story too. Lots of options here… I wish you luck figuring out what works for your story! 🙂

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