Sunday, September 25, 2016

Detail, Character Creation and Missed Opportunities by Suz deMello (@nanowrimo #iamwriting)

Abba Eban famously said of his opponents, "They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." That's also true of many writers.

I recently read a promising tale in which a newbie sub was trapped in a stalled elevator with a Dom she'd played with just the night before. The story being erotic romance, of course they fucked, and after the elevator was fixed, he took her to a nice dinner and wooed her properly. Unfortunately the author was more concerned with throwing words onto the page and finishing the story rather than writing the best story she could. For example, she described the dinner with generalities, such as "While they finished their appetizers and waited for the main course, they talked of their mutual interests..."

Lacking specificity, the recitation was drier and more boring than a cookbook. At least with the recipes, one can read glowing descriptions of food, such as ruby red tomatoes drizzled with an emulsion of champagne vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, which puts me in mind of well-flogged buttocks festooned with a man's come.

How much more lively would the meal have been if such food had been eaten? How much more lively if the author had taken the time to detail the meal instead of boring the reader with generalities?

Emotion is at the heart of every good story. How much richer would the scene have been if it had been infused with emotion?

Remember the scene in Sex and the City, when a man devours a ripe apricot half as though it was a woman's cunt? Or the very famous scene in Tom Jones when the title character and a whore seduce each other over soup, lobster and roast chicken?

I often write scenes in which the hero cooks for the heroine. When a man cooks a meal for a woman, a stereotypically female task, it shows caring and affection. Here's such a scene from Fashion Victim, a romantic suspense novel.

“So what’s for supper?”

“Vegetable stir-fry on Chinese noodles. We’ve eaten out so much lately that I wanted an evening at home.”

“Umm.” His place wasn’t home, but why argue?

He drained the noodles in a colander, adding splashes of sesame and chili oil. He divided the noodles into portions, dumping them into bowls decorated with blue carp. The veggies went over the noodles with sprinkles of sesame seeds and crumbled seaweed.

“Awfully strange fare for a meat and potatoes man,” I said.

“Oh, I’m aware of your tastes, honey, as well as my cholesterol count.”

My mind tilted and whirled, as though I was on a carnival ride. I had never envisioned myself living in the world of Thirty Minute Meals with Fletcher as Rachael Ray.  My investigator's lousy dossier hadn’t revealed that he knew one end of a wooden spoon from the other, let alone that he liked nori and sesame on his stir-fry.

So you can see how detail contributes to the reader's understanding of the characters and their relationship. The scene is richer because of the detailed description of the food and its preparation. The hero knows that the heroine prefers vegetables and therefore cooks a meal that's to her taste, showing that he cares about her desires.

In a romance--and most erotica has some romantic content--never miss an opportunity to infuse a scene with emotion. While the characters in the snippet I quoted were interacting casually, nevertheless, there's a lot of emotion implied rather than shoved down the reader's throat.

And how does detail contribute to the reader's experience? Why?

Consider the maxim: show, don't tell.

When we use generalities, we're telling.

When we use specifics, we're showing.

The message? Never miss an opportunity to round out your characters by showing them in an unexpected setting. Fashion Victim is a good example--the hero is a wealthy corporate raider. Most writers would show him being served a sumptuous meal in a fancy restaurant. Boooring.

And never, ever be boring.


Tina Donahue said...

Great post. Emotion is certainly the key. However, it's the hardest thing to get down on paper. That's why writing romance is so much harder than anyone believes.

Suz said...

Thanks, Tina!

jean hart stewart said...

Very good points and the stuff every writer should remember...