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!
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.
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!~~~~~~~
(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|
Coming in April and now available for pre-order:
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.