GETTING THE DETAILS RIGHT
Recently I was asked to be a speaker at a writers’ conference—the topic being character and setting description. The chairperson titled it “Getting the Details Right.” Because I have messed up on the details in a few of my books, this is the perfect topic for me.
First off, two of the biggest mistakes I’ve made:
- Changing the type of car someone drives. In my first Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, the car changed from a Blazer to a Bronco several times.
- Names of people—giving new characters in a story more than one name.
- Leaving out an important day of the week in a book that moved day to day through the week. (I fixed that before it got published.)
What I’ve seen in other people’s books:
- Giving a Japanese character a Chinese last name.
- Putting in details about a real city that are totally wrong. (And this is why I created my own cities even though they have a resemblance to a real place.)
- Setting a story in a fictional mid-west town with the wrong kind of geography and kinds of trees.
- Having too much happen in a much too small amount of time.
- Changing an important piece of description of a main character such as eye color
Let’s start with setting. I love books that clearly describe the places where the action takes place inside and out and also includes the weather (because this can be an important part of the plot), and different smells (which also can be an important part of the plot, or merely a means to evoke another sense of what the setting is like).
With characters we don’t need to know every detail of a person’s look, but enough to create a picture of the person in the reader’s mind. Along with the outward appearance, the personality is even more important. What in the person’s background would make someone do certain actions? Think about triggers to behaviors and motivations.
All of this is important, but to make sure not to get things wrong as I and many other authors have done, some means of keeping track of all these details needs to be used. Authors do this in many different ways from simply keeping written notes or an elaborate computer system. This is even more important for those of us who write series.
Anyone want to share how they keep track of the details? Or a mistake you’ve found in a book you’ve read
P.S. Though it’s been fixed now, I mixed up some character’s names in my last Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. No one noticed ahead of time–my critique group, the editor I sent it too first, or the publisher who thought it was my best book in the series.
Yep, this is the one.