Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If the Real World Were a Book...

by Susan

"If the real world were a book, it would never find a publisher. Overlong, detailed to the point of distraction-and ultimately, without a major resolution."
 - Jasper Fforde, Writers Write Creative Blog

As writers, we strike a balance creating a world readers can believe in while leaving out the mundane details that distract from the central truth, the central story. We want telling details, not dragging ones.

If we model off of real life, though, we may be sorely disappointed. Life can get a bit dull at times.

I have to admit, I love a good mundane detail that immerses me in the story. The moment I knew the movie Fargo was brilliant was after the fleeing car flips off the road and the driver opens the door to run from the killer, the dome light and open door warning go off. Ding... ding... ding. I am there.

I'm glad they left out the driver forgetting to check his tires and the salt truck driver calling in sick and the dietary habits (paleo) of the civil engineer who designed the road. I just need that light and that ding to immerse myself.

We really don't want to know the practicalities of attending management seminars once Charlie inherits the chocolate factory. It might lead off into a new story, where Charlie finds himself embroiled in a huge, business-threatening scandal due to poor treatment of the Oompa-Loompas. But that's a new story, and one that still (we hope) won't go down the checklist of questions you can't ask in a personnel interview.

Where is the line between telling details and dragging details? I don't exactly know myself until I see it. On first draft, I tend to put in everything from the protagonist waking up in Vegas with a strange man in her bed to her brushing and flossing. (She hates when popcorn gets stuck between her molars.)

Ah, but that is a first draft. My general feeling is put everything in a first draft, all those details. Get them down on paper. I can always pick and choose later. Maybe she insists on flossing when she's still in that cheap hotel room with a still-sleeping stranger. Maybe that reveals something about her.

I never know when I might find my dome light and door alarm.

How about you? How do you find and choose those telling details?

Jasper Fforde is a British novelist who is is known for his Thursday Next novels, which began with The Eyre Affair in 2001. He has written several books in the Nursery Crime series and has begun two more series, The Last Dragonslayer and Shades of Grey.


  1. I totally relate to this. The first draft of my novel has everything, including the kitchen sink. Too much information. I know I have to just "get it down on paper" so I'll have something to work with on draft two when all that mundane stuff goes out the window.

    1. Glad you could relate. I do believe that when we write, NOTHING is ever really wasted. Those details might color how your character behaves, even if they're never shared with the reader. Or, that details that drags along in one piece is just the touch you need in another. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Oh, I love talking about details! I have notepads full of gestures, images, that-funny-thing-my-grandma-used-to-do notes. I think that you gather them as you notice them. Put them in your first drafts as you see fit. Then, edit out the ones that most people notice and keep the ones that are a little bit odd or unique. The details that convince the reader that you know this person or place well. The telling detail that shows character and state of mind. The detail that only the locals really know about. That sort of thing. That's my theory anyway :-)

    1. Quirks! Love quirks!

  3. I like both your idea, Susan, of putting everything in the first draft and being more selective later, and Lynn's idea of keeping the odd and unusual details in especially. My personal strategy is to "do what feels right," which is not actually a strategy. I'll have to work on that.

    1. Actually, I consider that a very good strategy! There's a lot to be said for gut instinct.


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