Saturday, September 17, 2011

Telling Details

Today in chat we were talking about how to convey culture (Hi Eb!), especially one that alien, either in SF or Fantasy, but it could just be an unfamiliar culture in our world.

The general consensus was that the way to do that was through details, but you had to know your culture fairly thoroughly to be able to pick the right details.

What I want to say here is that you also have to know what you want the scene to do, to choose the right details.  For instance, you can choose to describe a garden.  It's a good way to set a scene and it can be either a formal garden or a wild meadow or just a bunch of flowers near the kitchen door.

But if you want to add tension, say something about your POV character (by the sorts of things she notices) or foreshadow something, zoom in on a specific detail:

Yes, it's the same picture, just changing what I'm focusing on.

I make these changes and add the little details when I'm revising.  That way, I know better what I want each scene to do.

And now, a writing example:

Vidar stepped between him and the girl, black fury darkening his eyes.  I'd seen him in many moods, but never like this.  He didn't quite reach for his sword, but the fingers in his hand flexed and twitched.  All he needed was an excuse.

And the fool gave it to him, drawing his knife first.  Vidar narrowed his eyes and pulled his knife out slowly, leaving his sword in its scabbard.

"She's my bride.  I want her back."  He would have sounded more intimidating if his voice hadn't been shaking.

"No."  Light from the fire glinted off of Vidar's knife.

What kind of details do you use in describing your world?


  1. I liked your visual example especially well. :D

  2. Since most of my work is set in "our world," I go to the place I'm planning to use (Or a close cousin) and look for details that nobody seems to notice.
    Just my $0.02.