Well, it depends on what we’re talking about, but as I’m both a reader and a writer, the details I’m referring to here are the ones that enhance reading matter. Putting enough detail into a manuscript was the one thing I worried about when I started to make the transition from theatre scripts to books. Prior to writing my first novel I was accustomed to almost exclusively using dialogue to shape a story, and so I had a lot to learn. I knew what books I enjoyed reading, which authors I held in high esteem, and I knew I had to try and emulate their standard. So, for me, the detail did matter.
Look at the work of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. Think about the intricacy of plotting by those authors. Both used their medical skills from earlier professions to great effect, but the discipline they learned as a chemist or doctor also applied to the way they wrote. Their research was exemplary, and they put great care to make their characters recognisable as real people. Miss Marple made a point of applying her knowledge of human characteristics to understand those caught up in criminal activity. Reading about those incidents helps us all relate to them, making it easier to lose ourselves in the story.
So, let me tell you a little about how that applies technically for a writer. The detail in my head when I started out writing both my novels was sketchy at first. I knew the basic framework for beginning, middle and end. I had some ideas for particular incidents I wanted to include at some point, but I let the prose develop naturally. Many writers will do the same, often working through to the end, and then going back through their first draft to add extra layers of plot, or to take something out. But mainly they will put in little bits that complement the story, linking elements of plot or characters to enrich the detail. I tend to find myself regularly reviewing as I go along, and then look at the whole thing for further tweaking once that first draft is complete. Most writers do something similar, or… do they?
Yes, there are those that forget details, or just can’t be bothered – especially if they get the sales anyway. I know of one Amazon bestseller who churned out a new book every four months for the last five years. That kind of output is like a factory producing packets of cereal, and if you like that sort of thing, then fine. I read one out of interest but would never buy another as I found both the characters and the plotting to be too light on detail. Another author I encountered wrote a scene which just didn’t make sense. The story was building to an exciting climax. The heroine thought she was alone in an old house deep in the countryside when the killer broke in. She fled into the loft space and crept along in the dark hoping she could find a way down into the adjoining property. She could hear the bad guy behind her, but was relieved to find a hole just big enough to climb through. She swung her legs down first, aware that the villain was just seconds behind her. Then the writer ramped up the tension big time when she became stuck in the hole, staring up at her prospective killer. Now guess what part of her body got stuck. Hips? No. Shoulders? No. Answer: her HEAD. I know, I know. She must have been a very strange shape!
So, details do matter. Because if a writer doesn’t get them right and puts down something that (ahem) simply doesn’t fit, then it can ruin what otherwise might have been a decent story. Another point: Would I want to read any more stuff from that author? No. So no more sales there.
Details are important. I’ve just caught up on watching all five series of “Line Of Duty”. What terrific writing! The care and detail that went into making powerful drama out of each episode starts with the writer, Jed Mercurio. The standard of his scripts is matched by the actors and everyone working in production – and the success of the series is down to the lavish attention that is given to make the storylines as authentic as possible. Good writing is all about detail. Average writing skimps on it.
I’ll leave it to my own readers to judge where my books sit. Any observations so far?
Need to know:
I don’t just write fiction.