Monday, February 11, 2008

Details, Details

!. At one point in your life, thanks to the unlikely combination of life guards and detectives, the term floaters evoked in your mind visions of victims of drowning, reacing the point in their existential journey when they rose to the surface of whatever body of water they were once immersed, and now await discovery.

2. About two years ago, the term floater had you thinking about cancer cells, circulating in the bloodstream--your blood stream--hopeful of finding a lymph node or organ or convenient feasting groud on which to attach.

3. Thankfully the passage of time has brought you to the point where floater connotes for you ideas that circulate about, looking for a convenient place to attach themselves the better to form a cohesive pattern, a story arc, a thematic arc.

4. Thus on an early Monday afternoon these floaters looking for a connection, floaters of observation about detail, you know, detail, that thing the devil is supposed to reside in.

5. To your credit or to your debit, details matter to you in relation to fiction and nonfiction because they ratify the truth and reality of the situation about which you happen to be writing at the moment. If you were practicing journalism, you would want to get your facts assembled, but also the discovery of a detail would help you see and understand more clearly the narrative at hand. An individual you were interviewing and who asked not to be identified in this story would have some validity for you by the mere fact that the person's request for and reaso for anonymity wold have a ratifying effect, one that would help you see and believe the individual. Put that in concert with the individual wearing a red shirt or a cheap wrist watch or some other detail you could express would ratify that truth even further.

6. This reliace on detail allows you to create in your mind places you have never attended with a sese of authenticity, reminding you of the story told you by the wonderful lyricist, E. Y. Harburg, when accosted by a reporter wanting to know how he could have written such a remarkable song as April in Paris without ever being in Paris. Harburg replied to the reporter, "Listen, kid, I've never been over the rainbow, either."

7. Cayetna "Tani" Conrad paints large canvases, works particularly hard at getting the details of faces on her subjects, a lesson learned from her portraitist father and developed in her own style to the point where she observes that the execution of facial details is not so important as their placement. You get a set of eyes just a tad too close or too far apart and however well executed they are, they cause the image of the subject to not resemble the actual subject. The ears a bit too big or small, same problem, down through all the anatomy. Placement of detail trumps photographic reproduction of detail.

8. In a story a small, seemingly inconsequential detail becomes the fulcrum for the narrative; it helps the writer believe firmly enough to render the story authentic.

9. You have known and actually edited some unspeakably awkward writers, throwing life preservers as it were in hopes of saving the story. What you learned from them is that they were excellent story tellers; they simply were not gifted stylists. Nor did it matter because, as the details hold things together, the story holds even the more plodding text together.

10. This is why you are wary of being congratulated that a particular story or narrative was so exquisitely rendered until you have heard what you consider to be the real life preservers, that the story or the thesis held up under scrutiny. "Oh, what a way with words you have!" Please. That is post coital.

11. After years of having to write rejection letters, I knew not to make the entire process one of confrontation by offering the gambit that your well-written story and the acute perception it showed of the human condition failed to buoy up an unconvincing narrative.

12. After years of enduring rejection letters along with the acceptance letters, I still flare up like a match after the electricity has gone out, reacting to the notion that the details worked but the story didn't. Huh?

13. So the question hinges of selecting details about your persons and places that make them resonate for you, observations that cause you to see and feel them to the point where you worry you may be revealing secrets about them.

14. You are, of course. Revealing secret details about tem.

15. When the new pathologist's eyelid twitched in the novel I am currently reading in order to review, that response convinced me she was alive and important, and from that moment, I believed and liked her.

16. It rendering landscapes, the same thing obtains: Help me to see why your New York is different from mine. Help me see why your Hillary Clinton differs from mine.


Anonymous said...

The details are so very important in describing characters and setting, but they have to be placed carefully so as not to overwhelm the story. I have no trouble with these things.

Continuity on the other hand, well, I tend to have to watch my details very carefully when I go back and revise.

Lori Witzel said...

Lots of great stuff to think about in these. Truly gawd is in the details.


Regarding number 7 -- one of the cool take-aways from learning to draw is how "detail" is all about the relationship of mark to mark, thing to thing, ratio to ratio -- and ultimately of viewer to viewed and point-of-view. Relationship and detail, hand in hand.

Now for fun, go look at some drawings by Ingres, and reconcile what you see with anatomical accuracy. His portraits look "accurate" at first, but they are wildly "inaccurate."

However, by moving the scapula here, the zygomatic arch there, Ingres evokes a person and their world elegantly and coolly in ways that mere photographic rendering would not. View cameras and their adjustable bellows can crudely approximate the same thing, but oh what a master like Ingres can do...