Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It's all in the details

A few days after Christmas, my husband and I drove over to Asheville, NC, to tour the Biltmore Estate. Wow! Think Downton Abbey, Carolina-style! The Biltmore became the country home of George Vanderbilt, grandson of the famed industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. Construction began in 1889, and the house was opened to family and friends in 1895. In 1898, George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, and they raised their only child, Cornelia, there.

Can you imagine a family of three living in a 250-room house? According to the website, “The finished home contains over four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.” The estate grounds cover more than 8,000 acres!

We weren’t permitted to take photographs inside the house during our tour, but you can click this link if you’re interested in taking a look.

In my photos of the exterior, though, you can’t help but appreciate the intricate details that make the house unique. Every angle and curve, all the adornments and statuary, the turrets, the pitch of the roof—each feature engages the eye and enhances the dramatic style of the house.

By now, you’re wondering what any of this Biltmore trivia has to do with writing. The answer?
It’s all in the details!
Details—specific, focused, and distinctive to our story—are crucial to drawing readers in and making them believe the story world is even more “real” than the room in which they’re sitting.

It’s the difference between “Olivia put supper on the stove” and “Olivia added a pinch of fresh basil to the simmering marinara, her grandmother’s recipe, handed down through six generations of Bellinis.”

Now, obviously, if we went into this depth of description throughout our manuscripts, several things would happen. Number one, we’d soon be way, way over our target word count! Number two, we would bog the reader down in unnecessary information. Number three, if the story ever did make it into print, critics would likely call us to task for writing purple prose.

So the key is to decide which details are most relevant in each scene.
Scenario #1. Your heroine is called to her boss’s office, where he tells her she’s fired. What will she be most aware of in that moment? A chip in her nail polish? The distinguished cut of the boss’s designer suit? The pungent smell of the lemon-scented furniture wax the cleaning staff used on his desk?

The answer? It depends. If she’s in denial, she might focus on the nail polish chip and the manicurist appointment she hasn’t had time to make. If she’s resentful because her snobby, rich boss holds all the power, she might zero in on his expensive suit. If she’s so sick of that lemony smell every time she gets called on the carpet for some minor infraction, she might be more than ready to blow this pop stand and look for work elsewhere.

Scenario #2. Your hero’s dog just got hit by a car and is near death. The hero rushes to the vet, where an attractive tech (your heroine) hurries to help. Is he likely to pay much attention to how great she looks in scrubs, or the beguiling way one errant curl dips across her alabaster forehead? I doubt it. In that moment, he’ll be focused on comforting his beloved pet while pleading for the vet to save him. Yet I’ve read more than a few romance novels in which characters in dire circumstances often seem unrealistically distracted by each other’s appealing qualities.

Historical novelists face another challenge: incorporating the ideal balance of historical detail to set the stage without flaunting every morsel of research they unearthed. It may not matter exactly how your heroine stokes a wood-burning stove as much as the fact that she’s cooking on one—unless she’s never done it before and the hero has to demonstrate.

In my historical novella Settled Hearts, coming in April as part of Barbour’s The Oregon Trail Romance Collection, I knew I couldn’t describe in full detail what it was like for my characters to travel for months over rough country, all their provisions packed into a 4-by-10-foot covered wagon. But I did have to do the research so I knew what they were facing.

Then I salted in the specifics when it mattered most. I listed a few of the supplies they purchased before setting out. I described the biting flies as they traveled along the Platte River. In one scene, the hero has to hitch the oxen to the wagon, so I found a YouTube video showing exactly how it’s done, then sprinkled in the details as the hero interacts with the heroine, standing nearby.

The key to writing effective, evocative description—prose your readers won’t skim to get to the real action—is to make it relevant. Include the details but choose them carefully. Make each detail matter to the viewpoint character in that moment. When you understand what your character would most likely notice and why, it’s just a matter of describing the scene from that character’s perspective.
Remember, it’s all in the details!
Late-breaking addition!
(can't believe I forgot this!!)

One lucky commenter will win a copy of  
The Heart and Craft of Writing Compelling Description 
by Sharon Lippincott

Myra and hubby at the Biltmore
Although currently residing in North Carolina, Myra Johnson proudly claims her heritage as a native Texan, and she sorely misses real Texas barbecue! Myra is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist, winner of the 2005 RWA Golden Heart, and winner of the 2014 Christian Retailing’s Best Award for historical fiction. Married since 1972, Myra and her husband have two bright, beautiful daughters, two mission-minded sons-in-law, and seven amazing grandchildren. The Johnsons share their home with a couple of very pampered rescue dogs.

Coming in April and now available for pre-order: 
The Oregon Trail Romance Collection

Nine romantic adventures take readers along for a ride on the Oregon Trail where daily challenges force travelers to evaluate the things that are most precious to them—including love. Enjoy the trip through a fascinating part of history through the eyes of remarkably strong characters who stop at famous landmarks along the way. Watch as their faith is strengthened and as love is born despite unique circumstances. Discover where the journey ends for each of nine couples.


Terri said...

Good morning Myra! Details are so portent and I loved your cooking example, that really evoked an image in my mind.

And you are so right about not going overboard. It is a very fine line.

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Excellent post, Myra! I love exploring and bet your trip must have been fabulous! I can't help pondering that we are in awe of the grandeur of these estates and castles and we're used to a luxurious life, imagine how someone back in the late 1800s thought about such a massive home.

Kelly Bridgewater said...

Great post, Myra! I would live to tour this house. My husband and I visited Asheville, NC last year for a writing conference. We wanted to visit there, but we ran out of time.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I might swing down there sometime when I'm visiting the NC branch of the family.... and I laugh every time I see your claim to Texas... Myra, you need a cowboy hat.

Cowgirl hat.

A cool straw hat, curled brim. Girlfriend if you're going to claim Texas, you gotta walk the walk!


Tina Radcliffe said...

"Make each detail matter to the viewpoint character in that moment."


Tina Radcliffe said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Jackie said...

Hi Myra,

Great post. One of the first critiques I ever received told me to write tight. I now struggle to put in enough details. Thanks for the reminder.

So glad you went to see the Biltmore. It's amazing. If I didn't have family in KY, NC is where I'd want to live.

Thanks for sharing today.

Rose said...


How long did the tour of the mansion take!?!

Great information and examples.

Glynna Kaye said...

Love the Biltmore photos, Myra! I've only been there once, but the memories still linger of the house, the gardens and the thousands of wooded acres. I'd love to go there again, and how wonderful that you got to see it at Christmastime!

Thank you for the reminder that details the author provides need to be filtered through the eyes of the point-of-view character. Their upbringing, education, career, spiritual beliefs, emotional state, etc., will all determine and color what they "pick up" from their surroundings.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great post Myra, I love all the historical details in novels. You write great descriptions in yours. I always feel like I'm right there.

Have a great day.

Audra Harders said...

Myra, what a gorgeous mansion. They just don't build houses like that anymore, LOL! Thanks for sharing your tour. I love history that comes to life.

And I really had to snicker at your scenarios! It drives me nuts when characters are "all about the romance" during the most inappropriate times! Thanks so much for making that statement.

Cindy Regnier said...

Beautiful Myra! I love details. So much so that I am criticized for too many details sometimes. Write tight. Nope, I'm no good at it. I prefer the details of the details.

Wilani Wahl said...

I can't believe how close you were to me. I love the Biltmore House. For two years I was able to have an annual pass. This made it possible to walk through the gardens at all the different seasons and to photograph all the flowers and plants up close. It is a magnificent place.

I love the way you describe the scenes. With just the right amount of detailed descriptions at just the right places.

Marianne Barkman said...

Myra, I think you wrote that post from experience. I love your novels

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville!!!

Being totally NOT a morning person, this is one of those times I'm especially glad I live on the East Coast. I can fool all our West Coast visitors into thinking I'm up early and really on the ball!

Besides the fact that it's super-gloomy this morning--cold, rainy, and just plain yucky--and therefore, making it even harder to prod myself awake.

So bear with me as I play catchup with our early arrivals! ;-D

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, TERRI! Choosing the most relevant and important details is at the heart of effective description!

And why do I find myself leaning toward food descriptions so often in my writing? Am I just naturally hungry? Because it certainly isn't because I love to cook!!!

Myra Johnson said...

EVA MARIA, it's just hard to imagine anyone with that kind of wealth--or who needs a home that large and lavish! For one thing, think of the upkeep!

Actually, the cost of upkeep is why the family eventually opened the house to the public.

Also interesting to see the Biltmore after watching a few seasons of Downton Abbey. So many similarities.

Myra Johnson said...

KELLY, you do need to allow plenty of time to see the Biltmore. The basic tour of the house itself can take nearly two hours if you listen to all the audio on the self-guided tour. And there are specialty tours you can pay extra for that looked really interesting.

Someday . . .

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, RUTHY, not everyone in Texas wears cowboy hats and boots!!!

Myra Johnson said...

You're so right, TINA! It's the "in that moment" part that is crucial to getting the details just right for the POV character.

Glad you enjoyed the pix! Wish it had been a sunnier day.

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, we have really enjoyed living in NC. Mountains on one end of the state, beach on the other. We haven't made it to the NC beaches yet, but we have a trip planned to Edisto Island, SC, later in the spring. Can't wait!

Myra Johnson said...

ROSE, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, the basic tour can take up to two hours. One and a half if you move quickly.

The Christmas candlelight tour didn't take us as long because we waited to use the audio self-guided tour thingies on the full daylight tour. But the candlelight tour took us into parts of the house that aren't on the regular tour, so that was fun!

There's also Antler Village, which has shops, a winery (free wine tasting!!!), restaurants, and a farming museum-type area that was really interesting.

And just driving around the estate grounds is fascinating! I hope to go back when the gardens are in bloom.

Myra Johnson said...

GLYNNA, you're so right. We really have to get deep inside our POV characters to understand what they're most likely to be consciously aware of in their current surroundings and situation.

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, SANDRA! Getting the details right in historical fiction can be a real challenge. I do try to be thorough AND subtle!

Myra Johnson said...

What, AUDRA??? They don't build houses like that anymore???

Dang. I was about to hire an architect for my next mansion.


Myra Johnson said...

Details of the details--LOL, CINDY!

One of my "description crimes" is getting heavy-handed with adjectives when I'm trying to make sure the reader gets the full picture. When editing, if I find a sentence with two or more adjective-noun combinations, I start looking for other ways to say it.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, WILANI!

Yes, I imagine it would be great fun to have an annual Biltmore pass! I really hope we can go back again in the springtime.

And did I mention sunshine??? We're having a dearth of it this week, and I'm getting punchy.

Myra Johnson said...

MARIANNE!!! Thank you! I'm honored to know you enjoy my books!

kaybee said...

A good post and so worthy of being reminded of.
I LOVE the Oregon Trail! The book I'm shopping around right now takes place on the Trail. (In fact that's it's name, "Trail," until some wise editor changes it.) My challenge was to not go into cliché, since so much has been written about this Great Migration. I did have some of the usual suspect landmarks, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, but I tried to tie them in to what the characters were doing.
I also love to read abou the O.T. There really was nothing like it in American history, possibly the world. I just finished Jane Kirkpatrick's "A Light in the Wilderness" and am rereading Melanie Dobson's "Where the Trail Ends." Looking forward to the collection!
Kathy Bailey
Born 200 years too late

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, KATHY! It was so interesting doing the research for the Oregon Trail novella! I learned stuff I never knew (or else forgot). Independence Rock plays a big part in one of my scenes.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Fabulous article! (And I would SO love to visit Biltmore!!)

Kav said...

First things first -- since it's all in the details, please tell me that the dog in scenario #2 survived and is happy tail wagging with hero and his newly acquired vet tech girlfriend. :-)

I am actually struggling with this right now. How much is too much detail? When does it start pushing the reader away instead of pulling the reader in?

Love your examples in Scenario #1 because it shows how seemingly mundane details can actually add depth to a character.

Myra Johnson said...

SHERRI, I hope you can make it to the Biltmore someday. It was on our bucket list ever since we moved to NC nearly four years ago. So glad we finally got there!

Mary Hicks said...

Loved the photos, Myra! Thanks for the links.

I have to be careful about details—i'm a detail person, and I notice everything! :-)

My sister has toured the Biltmore several times and loves it. She wants me to go with her this summer, to see it once more. :-)

Myra Johnson said...

KAV, yes, of course! The dog survived and is living his HEA with the happily married couple!

In my (humble) opinion, what works best to keep descriptive detail from becoming overwhelming is to intersperse it with character action and dialogue. When my characters are in conversation, I try to drop in tiny bits of description to show the setting, what they're observing with their five senses, how they're moving, etc. Just a little bit at a time.

Again, it's ALWAYS about what's most important and noticeable to the POV character at any given moment.

Myra Johnson said...

MARY H, I hope you'll take your sister up on that offer! It's an amazing place!

It's great that you notice everything. That gives you a great arsenal of details to sprinkle in at just the right time!

Meghan Carver said...

Good morning, Myra! I would love to see the Biltmore someday. My husband and I were supposed to stop there on a trip many, many years ago, but our car broke down and we never made it. I appreciate your analogy to sprinkling in the details, and I'm heading over to the link to see the inside photos as soon as I publish this comment. :-)

Jackie Smith said...

So glad you visited the Biltmore....saw it several years ago and would love to return!
I have a long time friend who lives near there now.
We live in GA and don't travel much now. NC was a favorite place for us when dd lived there!

I just realized I am waaay behind on your books...must visit Amazon right now and correct that!

Myra Johnson said...

MEGHAN, the interior of the house is just as amazingly detailed as the exterior! I hope next time you're in the Asheville area you can take time for a tour.

Honestly, every time I look at these photos and see the intricacy the designers incorporated, I'm just in awe.

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE S, maybe it's time for you to plan a trip to visit your friend and see the Biltmore again! I do understand how hard travel can be sometimes, though. I'm usually a real homebody and prefer the comforts of my own surroundings.

CatMom said...

LOVED and NEEDED this post, sweet Myra - - thank you!!
In fact, I've copied this line from your post and am keeping it by my computer: INCLUDE THE DETAILS, BUT CHOOSE THEM CAREFULLY. (A simple reminder, but one I need to keep in mind as I write!).

So glad you and your hubby were able to visit Asheville. I've heard the Biltmore House is spectacular (but I can't imagine trying to clean even part of that house, LOL - - of course, I'm sure they had lots of servants!).

Thanks again for sharing this with us (and for sharing these photos too).
Please enjoy the Pecan Praline pie I'm setting out - - it's rich but yummy! ;)
Hugs, Patti Jo

p.s. Kept thinking of you yesterday as my husband headed to NC on business (Highpoint area).

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, PATTI JO! Fun to think of you just down the road in "peachy" Georgia!

Amen on cleaning at the Biltmore! My engineering-minded hubby has calculated that the square footage of the dining room alone is bigger than our entire house!!!

Thanks for the yummy pie! My taste buds are in heaven just imagining it!

Debby Giusti said...

Lovely, as always, Myra!

We visited the Biltmore some years ago. I'm ready to return.

I was enchanted by the large, upstairs sitting area near the bedrooms where guests could relax between meals and planned activities. The opulence was amazing.

Hubby and I also enjoyed the carriage house, a bit smaller in scale and so charming. We ate outside in the courtyard, listened to lovely music of the day and soaked in the ambiance of the time period.

Yes, I need to return to Biltmore!

And about details in a story....usually I don't add enough in the first draft and pepper them in as I rewrite, but as you mentioned, only a few that are relevant to the POV character.

We're gloomy in Georgia, as well. Longing for sunshine!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DEBBY! Wouldn't it have been so fun to be a guest of the Vanderbilts back in the day? I could have spent hours and hours just exploring the library!!!

And all those bedrooms and bathrooms! Interesting fact we learned: the bathrooms have a tub and toilet BUT NO SINK! Back then, people preferred to have a pitcher and bowl in their rooms for freshening up.

Tracey Hagwood said...

Hi Myra,
Great picture of you and your guy. I love Biltmore, I've been twice, in the spring and at Christmas, entirely different experiences. The details there are amazing (don't care for the gargoles though).

Looking forward to your new historical.

Tracey Hagwood said...

Oh, I forgot! That library is the stuff of dreams! How I would love to wander around in it and open a book or two. The library alone has got to be priceless!

Jill Weatherholt said...

Great post, Myra! I love details when I'm speaking with someone. I think I need to be more careful when it comes to details in my writing.
I'm embarrassed to admit, I've lived in Charlotte for ten years and have yet to visit the Biltmore. I would love to see it during the holidays.

Jennifer Smith said...

I love this advice, Myra! I've seen some of what you mentioned in scenario #2, where characters are noticing things about each other that they probably wouldn't in a real-life situation. Great post. :)

Andrea Strong said...

I've read of Biltmore. Deeanne Gist set her novel Maid to Match there. I had forgotten it was a Vanderbilt home. Is this the same family as Gloria Vanderbilt of 1970s blue jeans fame, and Anderson Cooper?

I think your dog lover would more likely be effected by the vet tech's tenderness and care his beloved pet, or the empathy in her expression. Possibly the fresh scent of her shampoo and how out of place it seems in the sterile environment...but only after the immediate crisis has passed.

Wonderful food for thought, Myra.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, TRACEY! I really hope we can go back in the spring when the gardens are in bloom. It must be simply gorgeous! It was cold and rainy the days we were there between Christmas and New Year's. I enjoyed seeing the house all decorated for the holidays, but I sure would have enjoyed it more if it had been warm and sunny!

Myra Johnson said...

JILL, some details are definitely more interesting than others, especially in conversation. So obviously the same holds true in our writing. It's all a matter of figuring out how much to say and when to say it, right?

Myra Johnson said...

JENNIFER, doesn't that just drive you crazy? The H/H are on the run from a psychopathic killer, and they're noticing each other's eyes???


Myra Johnson said...

Hi, ANDREA! Yes, I'm pretty sure Gloria and Anderson come from the same family of Vanderbilts. If Google can be trusted, Cornelius Vanderbilt was both Gloria's and George's grandfather (George built the Biltmore).

I agree--the dog owner and the vet tech would be much more likely to notice each other's special qualities once the crisis has passed. Then he'd probably ask her out to dinner to thank her for saving his dog, and an engagement would follow, and a wedding . . . and lots and lots of puppies!!!!

Keli Gwyn said...

What fun it must have been to tour that magnificent estate, Myra. I'm glad you had the opportunity.

I'm a detail person to the max. I love working interesting historical tidbits into my stories. My challenge, as you mentioned, is choosing the best ones and sprinkling them in appropriate spots rather than pouring them on. Sometimes I'll write a scene that incorporates a good deal of historic detail, knowing I'll have to go back and, like a sculptor, scrape away the excess until I have only what's needed.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Myra! What lovely photos of the Biltmore. I'd love to visit someday!

I admit to a propensity for details. It comes from reading a TON of L.M. Montgomery as a child, because she just loved her purple prose and descriptions (and who wouldn't, with a setting like Prince Edward Island?). There's actually a scene in Anne of the Island in which Anne is writing a story that she hopes to get published. It is rejected several times, and she mercilessly cuts out "all the flowery passages," except for a sunset scene. I've heard this is a reference to Montgomery's real-life journey as a writer, when her editors urged her to trim the details out!

Have a wonderful day!

Myra Johnson said...

KELI, I like your analogy of working like a sculptor to whittle away the extraneous details! It's so tempting to want to include ALL the fascinating facts we uncover during our research--after all, wouldn't our readers want to know all this stuff? That's when we need to remember we're storytellers, not history professors!

Which reminds me, when I was in school, the most interesting and engaging history class lectures were NOT the ones laden with facts but the ones that told a story!

Myra Johnson said...

Interesting, STEPHANIE! I think it must be a sign of our modern, fast-paced world that readers don't have the patience they once did for lengthy descriptive passages. We can still find creative ways to work in those beautiful descriptions, but we just have to be more subtle about it.

Janet Dean said...

Myra, I've been to the Biltmore once and loved the house tour, but didn't notice all the great details of the exterior of the house. Now I want to go back. Was the house decorated a lot for Christmas?

Your post is a terrific reminder of the importance of details and whether the h/h would notice them or not and how those details would impact them, depending on the situation and their mood.


Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JANET! Yes, just about every room in the house was decorated for Christmas! I understand a lot of planning goes into the theme for each year and how each room will be decorated. One of the central pieces is a HUGE tree, maybe 3 stories tall, in the main dining hall!

As part of our tour package, we received a souvenir "coffee table" book of photographs and descriptions of the various rooms. It's really nice to have, especially since we weren't allowed to take photos inside the house.

The Artist Librarian said...

Great points about being prudent on what details to add --as a reader, I love detail, but even I was put off at times with authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien (love Lord of the Rings, but it can be much)!

Also, I recently finished "Every Tear a Memory" and I really enjoyed it! I'll have to find the previous novels in the trilogy soon. Glad to see less common time periods (WWI) coming into play ... maybe Downton Abbey's responsible for that?

Myra Johnson said...

Welcome, ARTIST LIBRARIAN! I'm so glad you enjoyed Every Tear a Memory. It was fun researching that entire series, which is set in an area where we've vacationed often over the years.

Well, I am a HUGE Tolkien fan!!! But I agree, some of his passages do go on and on. It was a different literary era, that's for sure! I still enjoy rereading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy every few years. Even more now that the movies have come out--interesting to compare what Peter Jackson kept from the books and what he added on his own to get the stories to the big screen.

The Artist Librarian said...

I just watched the last "Hobbit" film earlier this month --I really need to reread it and LotR. Now that I'm older, I might have a different view ... I don't remember a lot about the Hobbit, but I don't think the battle was portrayed in quite the same way. It was a great fantasy film though! =)

Myra Johnson said...

There's a lot that's different in the movie. Some of it, I'm sure, is because of what works and what doesn't on the big screen. Also, in the bonus materials on the extended DVDs, there's mention of how when Jackson made The Hobbit, he could add allusions to LOTR that even Tolkien couldn't have because he had no idea he'd go on to write those books.

Mary Connealy said...

Love this, Myra.

I also think the Biltmores were weird to build such a huge house, but that's a separate story.

Myra Johnson said...

Well, I can't say I disagree, MARY. I mean, really. Who needs that much house??? I guess they entertained a lot. Why else?

Mary Connealy said...

You can't have the hero admiring a woman when is dog is hurt
You can have the hero admire things about the woman that take a physical bend.

She moved swiftly to keep Fluffy from choking to death. Her graceful hands were as skilled as any surgeon and intelligence gleamed out of her shining blue eyes.

Mary Connealy said...

Maybe they couldn't stand each other and all three of them wanted their own wing.

Myra Johnson said...

There you go. You nailed it, Mary.

Myra Johnson said...

Well, I was replying to your vet tech comment, but it works for the Vanderbilts, too.

Janet Dean said...

What was the theme, Myra? Just want all the details.

My question, did your dh notice the same details you did? I suspect men and women notice very different things. Another blog post. LOL


Myra Johnson said...

LOL indeed! You're right, JANET--men and women do tend to notice different things. Like, hubby was most impressed by the sheer size of the dining hall and figuring out we could fit our whole house into it!

Um, I'm not sure I can describe what the specific decorating theme was. Maybe . . . opulence???

Sandy Smith said...

I enjoyed this post, Myra. The Biltmore Estate looks fascinating. I'm sure it was fun to visit.

The book looks really good!

Myra Johnson said...

It was very fun, SANDY! Thanks for stopping by!

DebH said...

hi Myra
must have a look-see at the Biltmore sometime. I don't think I'm too, too far away (Va Beach area). I've visited a few of the DuPont properties in Delaware with my in-laws, but I don't think those estates were quite as opulant.

My take away from your post is to use the details that important in the moment. Yep. Nothing quite as annoying as having the hero and heroine preoccupied with the lovey-dovey stuff when they really should be paying attention to say... life and death type issues. Kinda like the dumb decisions characters in B horror films make right before they die. I guess there's a genre for the wrong details getting used at the wrong time...

good food for thought post. THANKS!

(oh, and it's so cool to get to see you and hubby in the pic. awesome!)

Meleah said...

Thanks for this post, Myra! Near the end, there were two words that popped right off the page, serving as a great reminder of an interview I heard recently, "what" and "why"; the interviewee was a published author (I've forgotten his name), who said a lot of his success came from the major tools of his previous career as an investigative journalist, the good ol' '5 w's". I appreciate this!

Chill N said...

Oh Myra, by all means visit Biltmore in the spring. And autumn. And since you're a fellow native Texan, you can even handle it in summer :-)

You mentioned something that yanks me out of a story -- when the details don't ring true to the POV character at the moment. Or the scene's pace is zooming and suddenly the POV character pauses to share details about something like the weather.

But it is hard to cull the details in historicals. Was there anything you had to delete that you really, really would have liked to include?

Thanks for sharing your photos!

Nancy C

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DEB H! Yep, you nailed the one major point I hoped to make. What would the POV character notice at that moment in those circumstances?

It was fun to be able to get that photo of hubby and me. They had one stop on the tour with a professional photographer, and of course they want you to buy a bunch of copies! We held it to one, but they also let you download a small version from their website.

Myra Johnson said...

MELEAH, the 5 W's come in handy for all kinds of writing! I'm sure investigative journalists must become experts at taking note of the important details--good practice!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, NANCY! I'm with you--when the POV character is shown noticing things that a real human being just wouldn't be paying attention to in similar circumstances, it's just . . . strange.

Hmmm, any historical research I was tempted to include more of? Maybe that scene in Whisper Goodbye when Gilbert tells Mary about seeing the elephants drinking beer at the bar just before Prohibition starts. That actual event in Hot Springs was really fun to read about!

Missy Tippens said...

Such a good point about making details relevant. Although, I'm bad about putting the details in in the first place. Janet is always having to pull that out of me when she critiques for me! :)

Walt Mussell said...

We went to Biltmore with my in-laws Christmas 2013. It's a great place. It bored the daylights out of me when I went there during my childhood (grew up in NC), but I found it fascinating when I toured it as a grown-up.

Julie Lessman said...

Myra, forgive me for being late, but I'm still beating down a deadline, this time on editing, so I tend to let important things like SEEKERVILLE go till later.

But ... better late, yes? Very clever post, my friend, especially how you showed different details based on the character's perception (i.e. scenario one). I had never thought of it that way, but I guarantee I will now!

And, LOL ... yes, it makes me wince when I see a hero or heroine reacting romantically to someone in a dire situation. Really???

Great post, my friend!


Jan Christiansen said...

250 rooms? 3 people? I can't even imagine that, but while I was trying, I imagined that a person could probably sneak into one of those rooms and live there for months before being discovered. Then I wondered if said interloper would likely be a man or a woman and why they would be driven to take up residence in a stranger's mansion. I speculated on who might have discovered the squatter. The daughter/son of the wealthy owners? A servant? And what did they do? Threaten to expose them? Offer to help them? Fall in love with them? Oh...how will I ever fall asleep tonight?

Kimberly Reilly said...

Hi Myra,
I have also noticed that authors sometimes go haywire in describing a "love interest" at a time when the main focus needs to be on the crisis at hand. It is a valid point, and one that we must keep in mind.

As an unpublished writer, I sincerely appreciate the chance to win Sharon Lippincott's book; I really need a nudge!

Janet Kerr said...

These are absolutely beautiful pictures with wondrous detail. Great example! Thank you.

Loretta said...

The biltmore house and the estate is a great place to explore. My family and I had season passes for years. We live about 30 minutes away. One of the restaurants on the estate is the Deer Park, which is our favorite. Oh my word is the only way to describe the food which is served buffet style, which gives you a wide choice. A lot of the menu is grown on the estate so they have different menus for different seasons. The only set back is they r only opened on weekends now. My three oldest grandchildren grew up exploring all the places the estate has to offer. It's a great place to have n the neighborhood lol

Dora Hiers said...

OK, woman, when are you going to start calling NC home?? lol. I'm no better. You'd think after 7 yrs here, I would have visited the Biltmore! Making mental note to do just that. Love this post, Myra. Can you imagine traveling by covered wagon??

Cara Lynn James said...

Sorry this is a day late. Great pictures of the Biltmore. We visited there years ago. Wow, was I impressed with the size and the details of everything including the gardens. These Vanderbilts spent to much $ on this estate and didn't end up quite so rich.

Myra Johnson said...

Sorry for not making it back to the blog later last night. Truth is, I'm not much more of a night person than I am a morning person! I always tell everyone I'm a middle-of-the-day person--LOL!

MISSY, it's cool that you and JANET work so well together! Glad she can help remind you about the details!

Myra Johnson said...

WALT, there were a few kids on the tour with us, and I could tell they were so bored, even with the kids' version of the recorded guided tour. It is definitely NOT a kid-friendly place, at least the house tour part.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JULIE! You were here much later (or earlier????) than I was! Hope your edits are going well!

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, JAN!!! Coincidentally, I'm reading Mary's cozy mystery Fright at the Museum right now, and it's all about an evil guy who's been hiding out in unexplored parts of a big old house!

But really, in a house of 250 rooms, you'd think it could be easy to keep from being detected. Except these days I'm sure they have surveillance cameras everywhere!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, KIMBERLY! I can't believe I forgot to include the giveaway when I first uploaded my post. Better late than never, huh?

Myra Johnson said...

Glad you enjoyed the pix, JANET K!

Myra Johnson said...

LORETTA, how fun that you've been able to spend so much time at the Biltmore Estate! We had a hard time deciding which restaurant to try while we were there. We settled on Cedric's. I LOOOOOOVED their pickles, made with apple cider vinegar!

(FYI for those who might not know: Cedric was the Vanderbilts' beloved Saint Bernard.)

Myra Johnson said...

What, DORA???? Never been to the Biltmore yet??? Maybe one of these days we can lasso our hubbies and all go together!

But in springtime when it's warm and sunny, okay????

Myra Johnson said...

CARA, I can't even fathom that kind of money!!! For that matter, there are some huge homes in our city that make me wonder how in the world anybody is that rich or needs that big a house!

Jan Christiansen said...

What? Are you kidding, Myra? I haven't even read Mary's Fright at the Museum. Hadn't even heard of it and she's my favorite author! I'll have to read it, but I am a bit miffed that she stole my idea! (Or maybe this is an indicator that I'm thinking along the right lines for a fiction writer.) :)

Becky said...

Good insights. I need to be sure to give good details where they are needed, but not when they aren't!

Sandy Smith said...

Myra, please enter me for the drawing!

Myra Johnson said...

Just popping in to catch up with the latest comments!

JAN, Mary's cozy mysteries are available under her "Mary Nealy" pen name. Same fun writing style in a slightly different genre!

BECKY & SANDY, thanks for stopping in!