Wednesday, October 3, 2012
More on Details
One point I want to pound into you is that a novel is not reality, but you must make it seem real to the reader. You do this with realistic characters and a plot that makes sense—and also with the details that you select for your story. Each detail, no matter how small is important.
My own inclination is to know as much as I can before I start to write a manuscript, but some details will not come up until I’m in the midst. Nevertheless, these elements must be considered carefully.
First I needed a plot where he could use his psychic talent, and I decided that if he discovered the victims of a serial killer, he would know who murdered them.
Next I needed a heroine, and I came up with Sage Arnold, a hard-working accountant whose half sister, Laurel Baker, is kidnapped.
To create complications for Ben and Sage, I wanted the local police to insist that Laurel is a runaway. Why are they turning a blind eye to reality? What’s their motivation? And how can they get away with their behavior?
Because this plot element had to be plausible, I thought about where I could set the story and determined that the best place would be a small town run by an “old-boy network” where most of the income comes from tourism. I could make those requirements work in a number of locations, but I decided to focus on Maryland’s Eastern Shore because it’s out of the mainstream and because I’ve gone there many times to do research for books.
Should you use real names of places for your work? I do think actual places add verisimilitude, and I often use genuine details like restaurant, city, and street names; but I have a rule that if I’m going to say something really bad about a place, I give it a fictitious name. Since the conspiracy of silence in town is a major theme in DARK POWERS, I set the story in a place I called Doncaster, although the physical features match St. Michaels, Maryland, pretty well.
The name of my fictitious town is a detail I considered carefully. Since Oxford and Cambridge are both located near St. Michaels, I continued the British theme and found Doncaster on a map of England.
Once I’d settled on Doncaster as my setting, I looked for authentic details that would make the story more vivid. The main industry on the Eastern Shore used to be fishing and crabbing, along with farming, which is why it makes sense to have abandoned warehouses and crab processing plants that are excellent locations to hide a dead body. And on the outskirts of St. Michaels is a newly developed golf course community—another prime setting for a body to turn up.
In town, I used the seafood restaurant on the waterfront in St. Michaels/Doncaster, where diners can arrive on foot, by car, or by boat. Then there’s the police station, located in a converted Victorian house. It’s charming on the outside and all business on the inside. (And I had the nasty idea to have my hero and heroine locked in jail cells there overnight.)
And where could a local resident stash a kidnap victim and keep her captive for several months before killing her? That would have to be in an isolated area but one that was an easy drive from downtown Doncaster—where my kidnapper/serial killer works.
My heroine, Sage Arnold, grew up in Doncaster and has a love/hate relationship with the town. We see the community and its people through her eyes and also through Ben Walker’s eyes. I’m able to introduce the setting as Sage shows Ben around, commenting on the residents as she drives by shops and houses.
Scenes set in the various locations around town allowed me to drop clues about the kidnapper and the victim, clues that only become obvious near the end of the book.
And one detail that turned out to be essential—how does Ben see the last memories of murder victims and not the murderer’s face? I decided he had to wear a black hood that hid his features from Ben—and from the reader.
In summary, never include a detail without carefully considering what role it will play in the story. Think of the details as enriching your book and helping to make your fictional universe real to the reader.
What do you think about when considering the setting for a story? How have you used details to make your fiction richer?