Friday, May 17, 2013

Welcome our Guest Becky Wade

The Art of Incorporating Detail

by Becky Wade

    I read two types of novels:  

         I read novels about characters. 

         I read novels that are so powerfully authentic that I become the characters.  Magic happens for me within the pages of the second type of book.  I feel the emotion, I see the setting, I hear the dialogue, I smell the air.  Whenever a story comes alive like this for me, I first wonder how the author managed it.  Then I begin to wonder how I can write one.     

            The answer is mysterious and something I expect to spend my whole career chasing.  But I think one facet of the answer is this:

            Before a reader can BE in it, she has to SEE it. 

            And in order to see it, our readers need detail.

            I've read several books lately that were, in my opinion, too vague.  I couldn't visualize the hero's face exactly.  I didn't know what the room  the character were standing in looked like.  I had no idea what the heroine was wearing.  Many of us authors are impatient with detail.  We'd rather keep our stories lean and focus on plot and dialogue.  But it's a mistake to veer too far to that extreme because without description our books won't feel real to our readers. 

            Have you heard the expression, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."?  For my purposes today, I'm changing it to, "No details in the writer's imagination, no details in the reader's imagination."

            Here are some practical ways to add detail to your novel:

Before you begin writing a character, ask them a long series of questions.  Maybe you already have a character 'interview' you use.  If not, and if you'd like to try the technique, you can visit my web site here and check out the questions I ask each of my characters before I begin writing them.

Spend time at the outset of every scene sinking into the setting.  What does it look like precisely?  What does it smell like?  Sound like?  What's the temperature?  Time of day?  Season?  Does your hero have a five o' clock shadow?  Does your heroine have bags under her eyes?  How are they both dressed?

Now view the same setting through your POV character's eyes.  If you're about to write a scene from a male's POV, remember that he'll notice fewer details than a woman and he'll think about what he's seeing in blunt, common sense terms.  This is not the time to wax eloquent.  A man is not going to think, for example, "The moonlight slid lovingly over the stately old elm tree before bumping and unfurling like a ribbon into the meadow."  A much more realistic way for him to note the same detail, "Through the dark he could make out a tree and behind it some open grass."

Once you have the external landscape firm in your mind, investigate the internal landscape of not just your current POV character but the other characters in the scene.  Make sure you understand exactly what they're feeling, down to the smallest degree.  Only then can you honestly transfer their reactions onto the page.  If you'd feel envious in the situation you're about to write, then don't blot envy from your character's reaction.  Your character's envy is a detail that makes your story more authentic. 

Beware of inserting chunks of description into your scene in unnatural ways. 

1.  Think for a moment.  When do you notice detail about a room or about a person?  Likely, it's when you first walk into the room or first meet the person.  Then, as you stay in the space or study the other person, your brain may catalogue additional small bits and pieces of information. 

2.  Alternatively, you are likely to notice details during a time when you're idle.  For example, when you're waiting in line, when you're left alone in a room, during a pause in conversation, or when the person you're with turns away to greet someone else.  All these realistic breaks give your POV character natural opportunities to take in more elements of setting.

3.  Use detail sparingly during dialogue.  Consider the following (terrible) example:

            Her small hands fisted.  She stamped a foot covered in a brown high-laced leather boot.  "I'm furious!  How could you do this to me?"

            His gaze took in her hair, falling in loose curls down to the middle of her back.  Streaks of pale honey marked the blond locks. A small silver comb studded with diamonds held back a strand over her right eye.  "I did it because you deserved it."

            She frowned, furrows creasing her forehead.  Angrily, she walked to the window and back.  Her hand raised to her lips.  She chewed on the fingernail of her pinky finger.  "I did nothing to deserve this."

Do you see the problem, authors?  Too much description between spoken words suffocates the scene and refuses to let it live.  If these two characters are in the middle of a fight, your hero is going to have his hands full just processing (mentally and emotionally) what your heroine is saying to him.  If he notices anything about her appearance, it'll be in flashes.  Far better in this situation to keep the dialogue as the hero of the scene and the details spare.

            You'll know you're beginning to master The Art of Incorporating Detail when you the author know far more about your character and your setting than you show your reader.  Your story world needs details in order to come alive!  Have an arsenal of them ready but don't use them all.  Lace them in as naturally as you can, from your character's unique POV, choosing only the most powerful.
Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of Undeniably Yours.

Becky Wade makes her home in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three children, and one adoring (and adored) cavalier spaniel. Her CBA debut, My Stubborn Heart, has been named a finalist for Romance Writers of America's RITA Award.  Her new contemporary romance, Undeniably Yours, is available now!




  1. Thank you, Becky! I write lean as you described with a few well chosen details but this will help me better know where and when to place them. Many thanks!
    And I'd love to win a copy of your new release.

  2. This is my weakest skill, I don't do enough naturallly. I find it easier to do it during revision, because I have to get the dialog down. But these are great pointers on where to fill them in as I go. Then after revision I have "just enough."

  3. Becky! Congratulations on the Rita nomination. That's amazing! OH how I love those details, and it took me awhile to learn that the reader didn't see them like I did unless I 'clued them in.'

    A great book for this is WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan. Gina Welborn recommended it.
    And I think we've had a post here in Seekerville about 'the telling detail'.

    Thanks for the reminder and push, Becky. Very helpful!
    Happy FRIDAY everyone!

  4. Thanks for a fantastic post! This is always such a tricky part--balancing the descriptions so they plant the reader in the scene but don't bog it down. For me it helps to write it all out ad nauseum (to get it onto the page and out of my system!) and THEN go back and crop, crop, crop to make it tight and packed for the reader. Sort of like backstory--I need to know every last detail but the reader doesn't.

    Thanks for these great tips! And please enter me for your new release--it looks like fun!!

  5. This is a great post, Becky.
    You know the cowboy world is so well known that I really get lazy I think.
    I don't set scenes or especially describe clothes much at all. I need to start doing better at that.

  6. BECKY!!!!!!!!

    WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE, you sweet thing, and I gotta tell you ...

    Loved, LOVED, LOVED Undeniably Yours!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    OH. MY. GOSH!!! It's not often that book leaves indelible prints on my heart, haunting me for WEEKS after reading it, but you sure have the knack, my friend, and are hands-down, one of the best authors I've ever read.

    Can't wait to do our heiress promo together next month ... I'll be in touch.

    Hugs and more hugs,

  7. Becky,

    Great advice. I'm in the middle of revisions right now and I'm not sure I decided the inside of the house or the hero well enough.

  8. Becky, so true! That balance of description to dialogue to emotion is a huge one.

    Congrats on the Rita final!!! OH my stars, that's just a wonderful thing! YAY!!!!!

    And it's Friday but I'm still low-carb in upstate so youse are getting scrambled eggs and cheese with slabs of ham and red-eye gravy.

    It's hard to even FIND a carbohydrate in that menu, LOL!

    Eat hearty. And I've got fresh coffee going here, plain old Joe from Tim Horton's and some delicious Caramel Drizzle from Folger's Gourmet.


  9. Becky, I loved this post. I used to be the story world queen—meaning I veered into purple prose. I'm learning to scale back the setting descriptions in each scene. But I've scaled so far back that I'm having to go back and add descriptors. Your tips are so very helpful.

    I'd love to be in the drawing for your book.

    DEBRA--I'm veeerrryyy slowly working my way through WORD PAINTING. It is a good book for helping nail story world.

  10. Becky,

    Lovely post! Congrats on the RITA! Fantastic!

    Plus, praise from Julie. Must get your book/books!

    My writing is lean. Sometimes too lean. I'll try to fatten it up a bit with your wonderful suggestions.

    Perhaps Ruthy's carbs will help!

    So glad you're with us in Seekerville today.

  11. This was such a great post - and I finally made it to your website even though I had trouble with the link. I really like your character interviews. I can't wait to try something similar. And I SOOOOO wanted to read your synopsis because I have such trouble writing them but I will be good and wait until I have the chance to read Undeniably Yours. Undeniably, I would love to win it. Thanks, Becky. I'll be saving this post for my "help notes" file.

  12. Morning BECKY and welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for sharing with us. You gave some great examples.

    Congrats on the Rita final. wooo hooooo

    And DEBBY is right, a shout out from JULIE is major. smile

  13. Hi Becky, and congrats on your Rita final!

    Your example of how not to add details to a scene was a hoot! And I'm sure I've read books like that least I've started them. Not sure I ever finished!

    Long ago, writers could spend entire chapters on these kinds of details. One whole chapter in Wind in the Willows is devoted to describing the river!

    But I like the way things are now - the reader can experience the details the way the characters do, with awareness of details filtering in when they're appropriate.

    I'm looking forward to reading Undeniably Yours.

  14. Hello everyone! I finally ushered the last child out the door to school and came straight to my computer, bypassing the coffee and the bacon, thinking I'd be one of the first to comment on my Seekerville blog post. You ladies are way ahead of me! :))

    Thank you, Mary Connealy, for inviting me to visit Seekerville. Many thanks to the rest of the Seekers for welcoming me so kindly. I appreciate the RITA nomination congrats. I started writing when I was 22. RWA was the first organization I joined and their conference was the first I attended. Ever since sitting in the audience and clapping my way through the RITA Award ceremony, a RITA nomination has been a dream of mine... the kind of thing I happily imagine when going to sleep at night. I was OVER THE MOON when I got the call that My Stubborn Heart had finaled.

    It's great to see Julie Lessman here! You rock, Julie. Waving at Melissa Jagears, another fellow Bethany House author.

    I never cease to be amazed at how different the process of writing is from author to author. Your comments show that some of us write in too much detail in our rough draft, some write too lean, and some (maybe a very few) get the balance right the first time. :) Whatever works for you in the rough draft is great. Anything goes there. Imo, it's afterward that we need to keep an eye on our details.

    I'll be checking back all day, so if anyone has any questions for me, shoot!

  15. What a great guest post! I absolutely loved MY STUBBORN HEART and would so love to win a copy of UNDENIABLY YOURS! Thanks so much for the chance to win :-)

    Congrats on the RITA nomination, it is so well-deserved!

    ~ Melissa @ Melissa's Bookshelf

  16. Ooh, I especially loved your point about the difference of detail from a man's point of view. I think this is an area I really want to work on in my future books!

  17. Hi Becky, I am here as a reader gleaning knowlege from all the wonderfully talanted authors in fit right in.
    Detail is important when I read a book and I love to be a part of it and "Live" the story. I didn't think about there could be TOO MUCH. you ladies are always making me think.
    I know I will enjoy reading your new book, thanks for sharing.
    Paula O

  18. I LOVE detail. I love it so much I have to remove details when I perform my self-edits, choosing to leave only those that contribute to the story, convey emotion, or bring a setting to life in a special way.

    I've heard wonderful things about your stories, Becky, and am eager to read them.

  19. As one of the commenters mentioned, the link in the middle of my post (to the character interviews I have posted on my site) is invalid. My fault, I'm very certain!

    Here's the correct one:

    Scroll to the bottom of the page, and you'll see the interviews there. :)

  20. Welcome to Seekerville, Becky! Thanks for your post! I especially like your tip to give details the way the POV character would see and express them, aware of the difference between men and women and the importance of sprinkling them in. It's far more effective to show the character's emotion through details than through telling, but it's far harder to do. Thanks for the reminder!


  21. Welcome, Becky! Adding my congratulations on the RITA final--so exciting! (That's on my dream list, too!)

    Great advice here. Especially about considering what the POV character would really notice, depending both on gender and what's happening in the scene.

    Do you find yourself doing more "detail work" during the actual writing, or more so during revisions? I tend to ponder details as I'm writing, even to the point of interrupting myself to track down some pesky bit of info on the Internet. Just can't seem to move forward until I have my answers.

  22. Becky,

    So happy to see you here! You have become one of my favourite authors!

    LOVED "My Stubborn Heart" and am so glad to see it as a Rita finalist!!

    Great post - especially the male perspective. In my editing today, I will make a point of checking this!

    Please enter me in the draw. Can't wait to read your new book. I loved the fun you guys had trying to reproduce the cover! Very creative!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  23. Love this Becky! I have been frustrated many times over lack of detail, and then too much detail mixed with dialogue. I'm really looking forward to reading your books!


  24. Welcome to Seekerville, Becky. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR RITA NOM!!!!

  25. Hey, another Texan. Waving at you from 60 miles north. Several tornadoes close to you Wednesday night. Hope you didn't receive any damage.

    I need to print this off and save it. I'm an impatient writer and hate writing the details. I tend to skim them when I read, but you may've hit upon the reason. Just putting them in at the wrong time.

    Please throw my name in the hat for your book.

  26. What a fun and delightfully busy Friday! (bustles around, refilling coffee carafe and making sure Mary has Cokes out... Oh, of course she's NEGLECTED THAT so I'll cover for her...

    Like always.

    (mutters under breath... )

    Becky, I haven't read this yet, but I'm looking forward to it... It's fun to see you make a "splash" right out of the box!

    And here are some Rice Krispie Treats for everyone because it's warm-day, cool night time here and we're totally psyched to be OUTSIDE!!!!

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. wow, what a great post. i think i get a bit of blockage when i haven't "fleshed-out" those details. i'm a visual person, so this post works wonders for me. *lightbulb mement*

    would love to be in the drawing for your new release. thanks for sharing your insights here at Seekerville, where i learn something new everyday.

  29. Becky, what a valuable lesson! too much or too little detail can really cripple a good story. Thank you for the great tips!

    I read the character interviews. They really nailed your characters differences with that cover. Please enter me.

    Congratulations on your RITA nomination!

  30. Ruthy, you know that when ever I offer food, you tell me I'm doing it wrong. So it's your own fault that the job falls all on your shoulders!
    And it's supposed to be DIET COKE!!!!

  31. Hi Becky. You've shared a lot of great tips and I need them right now as I edit my WIP. Perfect timing!

  32. Great post, Becky. I the magically moment when I become the your ideas will help me SEE and hopefully write the details. Thank you!

    Laughed your examples of the wrong time for details. I bookmarked your "writing process bio details" for later reading.

    So EXCITING about your RITA nomination! Yay!!!

    Ruthy: Thanks for the Rice Krispie Treats. I just read a recipe in Bon Appetit for a version made with pork cracklin's---not sure if I'm brave enough to try those!

    Happy Friday and happy writing, Seekerville!

  33. This is SO hard to do! I catch myself adding long segments all the time, then not knowing where to put it all.


    Great post!

  34. Oh, the things we learn when we hang out at Seekerville! You should really charge for these lessons in the craft of writing, but I'm sure glad you don't!

    :) - Jan

  35. Thank you for this, Becky! I'm not good at adding details (not my forte--I'm better at dialogue and always have been; I just assume--ack!--that since I can visualize something that others can, too), but am going to print this out and use it as I add detail to my ms.

    Please toss my name in for the drawing for your book, too! :)


  36. I am a character reader too. I don't want to just watch the character, I want to know them.

  37. I think we all want to BE the character.

    So Becky, this is our Vince Mooney survey. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

    I suspect you are a plotter.

  38. So good to see my friend Melissa Tagg here. :)

    And Susan Anne Mason, I've so appreciated your support. Thank you! Susan Anne mentioned my attempts to re-create the cover shot of Undeniably Yours. If any of you are in need of a laugh today, you can check out my (mostly pitiful efforts) at:

    Myra, I do detail work during the actual writing. As DebH said, if I can't see the scene and the characters, I'm blocked. So I spend a good deal of time staring off into space visualizing things as I go. Like you, I'll dash off to google to hunt down a detail. If I come up against a detail that requires more time-consuming research, however, I'll note it, keep going, and come back to it later. During my rewrites, I continue to fine-tune the detail. I take out more than I put in at that stage, and even up through the galley stages.

    Yep, Connie, I'm a Texan. I started off as a Californian, then met a Texas man, so here I landed. We had some vicious storms rip through here Wednesday night, but our neighborhood came through unscathed. Granbury, about 60 miles southwest, caught the brunt of it.

    Tina asked if I'm a pantster or a plotter. I'm a hybrid! I start out armed with character interviews, research, and nothing more than a rough bullet point list of the scenes I envision. Then I begin, following my instincts as I go.

  39. Joining the party late, too many newspaper and magazine deadlines, but I'm here. I've been called out in crit groups for using too little description, which comes from my newspaper background, but I can also go nuts with description when I REALLY WANT THE READER TO GET THE POINT. Like everything else, it's a matter of balance. And craft.
    Ruthy, are you a diabetic or doing Atkins or something? Appreciate the low-carb meal, even if it is virtual. I don't suppose the Rice Krispie treats are low-carb? (Please...)
    Kathy Bailey
    Craving something sweet in New Hampshire

  40. Reaching for a Diet Coke. Thanks, Mary and Ruthy.

    Love the comments today. :)

  41. Becky, this is exactly what I needed.

    Thanks for sharing today.

    Congratulations on your RITA nomination. I'm so excited for you.

    I'd love to have my name in the drawing for your new book.

    Jackie L.

  42. Becky, one last thing...I went to your Pinterest page and repinned your book and followed you.

    We learned how important that is yesterday.

  43. Welcome Becky, and thank you for these excellent suggestions! I definitely needed this post right now, and am sure I'll be re-reading it.

    Congratulations on your RITA nomination--Wow! Thanks again for sharing with us today.
    Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

  44. Thanks for the Pinterest support, Jackie! I'm relatively new there but I sure am enjoying the site.

  45. Thanks for being here, Becky. The info on adding in detail from the male perspective is useful to know. And also the tips about when to add sensory details in a scene. Congratulations on the Rita nomination and all the best with your novel.

  46. Thanks for being here, Becky. The info on adding in detail from the male perspective is useful to know. And also the tips about when to add sensory details in a scene. Congratulations on the Rita nomination and all the best with your novel.

  47. This is so true! I can definitely tell a difference between those two types of novels. I've been waiting your new book, so count me in for the drawing.


  48. Becky, will you be at RWA this summer?

    We'll have a big Seekerville presence there. Come visit us in the evening...usually in the lobby meeting area.

  49. I have a problem with this. What I like about the post is how you talk about the timing of adding detail vs. when not to add.

  50. Hi Becky! I'm not an author, but I am a reader who's looking forward to reading your books! Thanks for the chance to win! :)

    Scraphappy71@ sbcglobal dot net

  51. Has anyone heard from Jenny today?

    She'll be in Denver tomorrow.

    Safe travel, Jenny.

  52. Becky, I veer off on tangents all the time. I never see it in the first go-round, I'm just glad to get the word count down.

    When I turn around and read the whole thing for the first time...ewwww! Talk about over writing! Forget the romantic descriptions during those knock-down, drag-outs, LOL!

    Thanks for great examples.

    Congrats on the Rita nomination!!!!!

  53. Becky, super about the RITA final! Congratulations.

    Loved your example of when not to add description. And the example of how a male would and would not describe a scene brought a smile. That's a good tip about having the POV character note the details of a setting, person, etc. while the POV character is idle ... definitely going to utlize that in the editing I'm doing now. Thanks!

    Nancy C

  54. Love these tips! This is one thing I need to work on. I write a bit too flowery and the details in the action tags slow down my dialogue at times.

    As a reader, I have to have details or it sort of "blinds" me for the rest of the scene. If I'm provided with the basics and a few actions here and there, I can do the rest with my imagination, but I'd much rather experience the scene as the character than spend my time trying to scratch up a setting in my mind.

    Great examples! Now I need to put a note about details in my macro edits list. It's getting long, unfortunately, but at least I know where to go from here. :)

  55. Great tips... Thanks for sharing!

  56. A big dump of information with the dialogue just takes me out of the story. Great thank you.

    I'd love to read UNDENIABLY YOURS.

  57. Mary, I should have said "collection of Cokes"....

    My bad.


    Oh I will not be trying that! Although I did try bacon/chocolate and all it tasted like was chocolate with sea salt so I think the bacon was more a sales-point than a reality... which wasn't a BAD THING!!!

  58. Thank you Becky, good tips! I love detail in a story, but it is a fine balance between just the right amount and going too far... as with most things!

    Good article!

  59. Debby, yes, I am going to RWA! Because of existing travel plans I'll only be there on Friday and Saturday, but I would really love to hang out with Seekerville folks while I'm there. Yes yes yes!

    Audra, I agree, less detail is more during knock-down-drag-outs. A few powerful snippets of description will suffice.

    Natalie, YES! I'm the same. If I'm not given enough setting information, it blinds me to the scene, too.

    Mary Preston mentioned that a big dump of info during dialogue takes her out of the story. It takes me out, too, Mary. I see this a lot - in the RITA books I judged it was a common difficulty. If an author makes me slog through lots and lots of physical movements or introspection between each line of dialogue, the scene becomes so slow paced and flat that it doesn't feel like it's happening in real time at all. The scene has been robbed of its zing.

    Mary Hicks said that the right amount of detail is a fine balance. So true! Just like everything in writing, the amount of detail is debatable and will be different for every author depending on voice. And just like everything in writing - it's tricky to find the right balance for your own personal story. The more I learn about writing, the trickier the whole business becomes! :))

  60. this is the best writing thing that I have read all day! So inspiring- like get bum in chair kinda of thing. I read your interview -the best I've ever seen! and I've seen quite a lot