A few weeks ago, I posted about my pet peeve - overuse of brand names that don’t deepen character or story.
Well, speaking of deepening, I want to deepen this conversation. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about details in fiction.
Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fastidious little detective, likes things just so. So much so that his fiddling with crooked doo-dads on a mantlepiece even helps him solve one perplexing case. He wears tight shoes, pristine suits, and waxes his mustache into precise and unchanging shape. All of these details not only deepen character and make Poirot recognizable in story after story, but they represent a deeper theme in Christie’s fiction - the ordered world should stay in order and murder has no proper place in it. (If we want to get even deeper, we can discuss how Christie began writing at the end of the Victorian and Edwardian ages, when order and the status quo were heavily and constantly questioned).
Setting too can be a detail with multiple layers and meanings. To keep with the Christie examples, the use of St. Mary Mead - the small English village, which is home to Miss Marple - is not only to show a seemingly safe world, where evil still lurks under the surface. It can also be seen as a representation of each of us - relatively nice people that we are - who still have within us the capacity for murder and deception.
The point of all of this - aside from getting you all to delve back into Christie? To suggest, perhaps, that we all try to deepen our details, layer them with meaning, and create more substantial fiction.
Nice post, Regina!!!
by Laura on April 10th, 2008 at 7:30 am
Thanks, Laura! I’m working on getting more substantial every day…
In my writing, that is - not in my waistline!
by Regina Harvey on April 10th, 2008 at 7:41 am
Oh, sure, details! I’ve got way too many details is the problem - it’s that dratted stringing them together that’s so hard!
(And I keep getting more substantial because sitting around pondering the details and munching are so compatible. However, a friend has suggested walking with a recording device, pretending to be on a cellphone - getting much needed exercise and ‘writing’ at the same time, so that’s my next purchase - oh, and a new pair of walking shoes.)
by Kate Hathway on April 10th, 2008 at 8:22 am
Walking and “writing” - what a great idea! I know some writers do the tape recorder thing, either for creation or revision, but I just don’t think I could listen to my own voice for so long.
Let us know how it goes, Kate.
by Regina Harvey on April 10th, 2008 at 8:33 am
I”m always willing to delve back into Christie. I think she’s my favorite writer.
by Cozy Crime on April 10th, 2008 at 8:35 am
I had a discussion much like this at my local SinC-meeting on Tuesday. It started out with a question - “What’s a cozy?” - and went from there. Agatha Christie wrote the original cozies, the drawing room, traditional mysteries. No sex, no bad language, no blood, guts or gore. Same as Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. These days, cozies have come to be more synonymous with cutesy, fluffy, hobby-mysteries about anything from soap making and ballet schools to yoga and home renovation. The difference, we decided (and no offense meant here; I write those cutesy, fluffy, hobby-mysteries) is that there’s often (not always but often) a sad lack on intelligence in the cozies that get published these days. Christie, Sayers and Marsh wrote intelligent books, and the details, and the layers of meaning, had a lot to do with that. IMHO.
Great post, Regina!
by JennieB on April 10th, 2008 at 8:46 am
Hi, Cozy Crime! I do believe Christie is my fave too!
I get what you mean JennieB - cozies are a bad word these days, though I still love them. The good ones, that is. Are there some good themed cozies out there? Sure. But lately, it seems that quite a number of them are just published with an eye toward the number of people who knit underwear, skydive, or sell hot chocolate for a living.
I’m guilty of having bought a coffee shop mystery just because I needed a gift for a friend whose very blood is made of the stuff, but if it hadn’t been good, my friend wouldn’t have bought the next in the series.
A lot of publishers seem to be cutting cozies these days. Here’s to hoping they’re just cutting out the dead wood.
Hmmm…excuse me while I run off and pen a new arborist mystery series…
by Regina Harvey on April 10th, 2008 at 8:57 am
Arborist… I don’t recall that one being done. You may have something there.
Diana’s new yoga series is obviously very good. Diana is a great writer, and loves the ‘oldies’, Christie, Sayers, & Co. I’m hoping mine will turn out to be a cut above at least the dregs - we’ll find out in November - but given what I had to work with, I’m not sure I managed. It’s pretty fluffy, to be honest. I tried, though.
by JennieB on April 10th, 2008 at 11:30 am
Fluffy can be just what we need sometimes, JennieB. And sometimes there’s something pretty substantial hiding underneath all that fluff!
by Regina Harvey on April 10th, 2008 at 12:39 pm
I have to chime in here. Full disclosure—-I write cozies, or what is classified as a cozy.
I think the cozy genre has become a caricature of itself. Publishers realized books geared to people with certain interests sold well and were easy to market, so they flooded the market with those types of books.
What was once a nice feature of the cozy/traditional mystery—-a look into a lifestyle or hobby—-has been exaggerated to the point that it’s often the only thing that’s emphasized in the marketing of the books. And I think sometimes it’s the only thing that some authors focus on when writing the books. Many cozy books have a lighter tone than gritty PI novels or dramatic thrillers. Combine that lighter tone with the overemphasis on the hobby/interest angle and you’ve got the impression that all cozies are fluffy books.
Like Diana mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s the difference between theme and gimmick. We’re pretty heavily weighted towards the gimmick side right now in the cozy field. That’s not saying that some of the books aren’t wonderfully written and very entertaining, but when the gimmick becomes more important than the story something is wrong. Fortunately, readers are pretty savvy.
by Sara on April 10th, 2008 at 1:02 pm
This is exactly what I’m talking about, Sara - think of a gimmick just as a big detail. It can work or not work, depending on what you choose.
For instance, in one of my series, the protag. hates being around people and she’s been a pilot for crop-related stuff. She is only comfortable up in the sky on her own. Only later did I realize how wonderful it is to have a protag. in a mystery who can fly a plane. Very useful and (I hope) interesting.
Gimmick is thin. Details can be multi-layered and meaningful as well interesting to certain people.
by Regina Harvey on April 10th, 2008 at 2:45 pm
Great example, Regina. Your protag sounds interesting–it’s not all about the detail, but how the detail reveals character and theme.
by Sara on April 10th, 2008 at 3:42 pm
Gimmicks, that’s where I get stuck. Sure, I love the knitting stories, not for the knitting patterns (since I haven’t knit in 20 years) but for the comfort in the relationships in the books, mystery or not. But in a way, I’m really tired of the superficial way the world seems to be going. Looking at the walmart run of 110 different Gossip Girl and Hannah Montana books, I wonder if reading anything is better than reading nothing.
I want substantive. I guess that’s why I visit the GG blog.
Good luck to all the walkers Sunday. I hope it doesn’t snow on you.
by Lynn on April 10th, 2008 at 6:37 pm
Reading for the relationships - can we talk? I mean, this is a whole ‘nother post altogether, Lynn! And then the Gossip Girl and Hannah Montana things - another post or two as well!
by Regina Harvey on April 10th, 2008 at 7:16 pm
I think I’m just in awe of you since Mr. King has touched your body.
But yeah, I need some depth in a story, I guess that’s why I’m having such trouble writing. I don’t want me as writer to disappoint the reader in me.
I have this picture on my desk of a old house that was in a small tourist trap in California, Cambia. I started a cozy about the elderly woman who lived there and the woman who owns the coffee shop/bookstore who befriends her. It’s those types of relationships that I want to examine in my writing.
by Lynn on April 10th, 2008 at 9:17 pm
Recognizing details that have potential is half the battle, Lynn!
by Regina Harvey on April 11th, 2008 at 4:55 am
And yes, when Stephen King touched me, I was awash in a glow, rays shot from my every orifice, and I fell out and began to speak in tongues.
He has imbued me with the potential to write only bestsellers - I’m just waiting for the stars to align perfectly before I begin…
by Regina Harvey on April 11th, 2008 at 4:58 am