Friday, October 7, 2011

Add Reality With Details

by Scott Rhoades

It's true that modern fiction does not typically include the detailed descriptions that many older novels have. But, well-placed descriptions make your fictional world real. This is especially true of little details that add color and reality to your world.

While on a recent business trip to San Francisco, I noticed several little details that could work their way into one of my stories (or one of yours--if you like something here, go ahead and use it). I find that I notice things more when traveling, even in a city as familiar to me as San Francisco. Travel makes you more aware of the details in your surroundings.

Here are some of the things I saw:

Cell phone as mirror. Two young women on a train, using their cell phones as makeup mirrors. This doesn't seem like it would work, especially with their dark skin, and it would never have occurred to me, but there they were, two young women in their late teens or early twenties, using their cell phones as mirrors while tweaking their makeup.

Authentic Italian pizza kitchen. At Uncle Vito's Pizza, a tasty and pretty authentic little pizza place, most of the staff spoke to each other in Spanish. Not a big surprise in California, but the irony adds a bit of detail that can be interesting in the right story.

Language lessons. While waiting for my calzone at Uncle Vito's, I sat next to two young Chinese girls. One giggle almost uncontrollably at the way the other pronounced the word "full," and tried to correct her, although her pronunciation was almost the same. The other girl coached the first on a Chinese phrase. It was clear that one spoke Chinese and the other grew up speaking English, but both had similar accents. I assumed that one is a recent immigrant and the other has immigrant parents, due to some things I've seen in that community before. As a language geek, I found this interchange fascinating.

Oddity store. I visited a store that sold odd stuff, like little figures made from animal skeletons, a unicorn, a flying monkey, and tons of other stuff. That store would make a great setting for a story, or items from that store would make interesting decorations in a character's home or room. If you see a store with weird stuff that you would never buy, go in anyway. It might give you ideas for settings, characters, or even for entire stories.

Farmers Market. Farmers markets often include many unusual products and foods, especially in a melting pot like San Francisco. Go in with your eyes open and you can find new experiences and interesting people, and add interesting color to your writing.

Loud Elevator Guy. One morning, i got into the elevator in my hotel. A kind of bug guy was in it before me. He greeted me loudly and cheerfully. As the elevator gained more passengers, his act got bigger and more animated. If I took some time thinking about this guy and why he is like he is, I'd probably discover an interesting character.

There's much more than this, but this should be enough for one blog post. Bottom line is, keep your senses open and pay attention, and you can find stories or interesting details that can add color to your stories.


Julie Daines said...

This is great to always have in the back of our minds.

And taking this one step further, try describing the details in a new or unusual way.

I just finished reading "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman and I was mesmerized by the way he described even the most average of details. He comes at everything from such an original and unexpected angle, but the description is always spot on.

Scott said...

Oh yeah, there was another one. A young mother pushing her little daughter in a stroller. The little girl was holding a piece of paper with a picture that I assume she drew. Mom says, "It's OK if the wind blows paper. It's not like hair."