Details are those little things that make a story and characters come to life. For a writer, they can mean the difference between creating an enjoyable read and one that transports a reader.
When I’m working on a story, I know certain things about the setting and characters before I ever start writing on the book. But those are usually the big, obvious pieces, the things I can brainstorm in character sketches and on plot cards. The details, however, come at me in random moments.
For example, back when I was first working on what is now Carousel Beach, my husband and I were in a bit of a tea phase. He’d picked up a chocolate-orange tea that, I have to admit, turned my stomach. I’m not much of a chocolate fan to begin with and the smell of that tea was not helping to convert me. One day I was writing a scene with the main character working in her art studio and guess what I had a craving for? That chocolate-orange tea became Maya’s drink when she worked on restoring the carousel horse and it’s what I drank when I worked on the book. And, for fun, I poked at myself with my aversion to the smell.
I’m envious of writers who can work to music or in public places. I can’t. I need quiet. There was a scene in the original Carousel Beach manuscript that wasn’t coming together. I poked and twisted and rewrote but couldn’t put my finger on what wasn’t working. I fell back on my default when I’m blocked—cleaning and listening to music. Jazz and classical trumpet, especially Chris Botti, help me quiet those busy-brain moments. Somewhere into the third song on the CD, the scene I’d been stuck on, unraveled. Jazz trumpet became the music of the book.
Several years ago, I started crocheting. It was something to do with my hands and an excuse to buy beautiful yarn. A friend sent me an email about a local farm tour and one particular farm caught my eye. The owner dyes her own wool and the colors and textures made me swoon. I had to go. At the time, I was working on The Distance Home (released May 2017). The story was mostly set at a riding stable and the main character had become an uptight corporate-type. There was absolutely no connection to sheep and wool, yet the moment I turned onto the property, I saw Emma, the main character, leaning on the fence watching the sheep. And yes, she discovers crocheting as the perfect release.
And then there was the rock I picked up years ago. It’s nothing special, just gray with a lightning-bolt of quartz running through it. I don’t remember where I picked it up or why. It’s just something that caught my eye. Sometimes I find myself rubbing it like a worry stone even though it’s rough. In The Distance Home, there’s a poignant scene when Emma reflects on what she’s lost and whether second chances are, indeed, possible. In the middle of writing that scene, my fingers found that rock and Emma found one of her own.
Moments, details, such as those are the gems that surprise me as I’m writing. And they’re the ones that bring a richness and authenticity to the stories.
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