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Descriptive Detail in HF

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Thu August 28th, 2008, 2:53 pm

"MLE" wrote:When it comes to clothing details, one of the best ways to cover them is the process of getting dressed.



That's an excellent way, but authors please don't overdo it. I had a book recently that went into minute 3-4 page excruciating detail over a princess's morning routine of dressing for the day, and she wasn't even a major character in the book.

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Margaret
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Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
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Postby Margaret » Thu August 28th, 2008, 7:29 pm

I'm with MLE:
Far better to make the details part of the story. If they don't further the plot or the characterizations, leave them out, or figure a way to weave that in. So if the roads are unpaved and muddy, have the lady dirty her dress, and make that play into something important coming up.


There are authors I love who use lots and lots of setting detail, as well as authors I love who are rather sparing with it. But when the story stops dead in its tracks while the author lavishes description on something that doesn't play a role in the plot and isn't particularly important to the characters, it's never good.

The last book I read was Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. For my taste, she often includes a little too much detail. But in the first chapter, there's a wonderful example of making the story come alive through the expert use of detail. One of the characters is a scruffy young man on a barge moving through a canal lock. Another character is an aristocratic young lady ashore who is wearing a hennin - the classic medieval cone-shaped headdress. In a commotion, the hennin gets knocked off her head and lands in the canal water. The scruffy young man goes to great lengths to retrieve it for her, but by the time he fetches and returns it, it has come unglued from the water and is stained blue from the dye on his hands (he's a dyer's apprentice). The whole scene is full of motion and tension. We don't get a static description of the hennin - it's central to the interaction of the characters, helping to characterize them as individual personalities and to move the story forward by showing how the two of them meet.
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EC2
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Location: Nottingham UK
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Postby EC2 » Thu August 28th, 2008, 11:04 pm

"Misfit" wrote:One caveat for these geneologies, maps, etc. I just picked up a book from the library that had a gorgeous geneology listed out, but it's on the inside flap. The library wraps their books up so tightly to protect the covers that I can't see half of it. Please add it to an additional page or two so all readers can see it and enjoy it.


The problem is that every extra page costs money and if you print numpty thousand copies you're paying for a lot more paper - that's how publishers see it anyway! Economics!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

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Divia
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Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Postby Divia » Thu August 28th, 2008, 11:13 pm

"EC2" wrote:The problem is that every extra page costs money and if you print numpty thousand copies you're paying for a lot more paper - that's how publishers see it anyway! Economics!


What I want to know is how some first time authors can get so much fancy stuff in their book when frankly their book sucks? Who makes these decisions? meanwhile you have established authors who dont always get the bells and whistles.
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EC2
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Postby EC2 » Thu August 28th, 2008, 11:25 pm

"Divia" wrote:What I want to know is how some first time authors can get so much fancy stuff in their book when frankly their book sucks? Who makes these decisions? meanwhile you have established authors who dont always get the bells and whistles.


Ummmm.... pass. I haven't a clue Divia. I just know it's an issue with my lot and with my foreign language publishers - not the maps as such, but keeping the word count down. I would assume it's the same across the industry. Perhaps your idea of what sucks isn't the same as the commissioning editors and they expect the book to be a bestseller? You can never second guess editors. I was asked to give a quote for a novel that I thought was truly awful and I refused, but someone must have thought it worth the paper. It's published both sides of the Pond anyway. One person's meat etc.
Les proz e les vassals

Souvent entre piez de chevals

Kar ja li coard n’I chasront



'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'


Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal



www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Divia
Bibliomaniac
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Postby Divia » Fri August 29th, 2008, 12:32 am

I hear ya. Who knows what goes on in other people's heads. Maybe they think its the next big thing, or something. *shrugs*
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Mara
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Postby Mara » Mon September 1st, 2008, 10:23 am

Just this morning I started reading another historical for reviewing - and within 5 minutes I became bored by the detailed description in the opening chapter of every guest, their hosts, and their family, at the dinner table (too many of them anyway). And all was told in omniscient pov, incl a profile of the main female character from whose POV I would have expected the description to come from. Not only was it confusing, as it jumped from one character to another and added nothing to the scene but it also began to annoy me. So much so that at the end of the chapter I wondered whether to continue or send the book back.

I did continue reading and the style improved but still, the damage was done.

Too much detail of unnecessary characters or items, especially early on, puts me off. I'd rather imagine things, given hints only. But that's just me...

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Volgadon
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Postby Volgadon » Wed September 17th, 2008, 10:50 am

I recently began reading Chekohv, and am amazed by the detail he could put in the scene, without actually using much of it at all!
Don't think historical or contemporary matters, because any author has to let the reader into his world.

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Wed September 17th, 2008, 1:56 pm

"Misfit" wrote:One caveat for these geneologies, maps, etc. I just picked up a book from the library that had a gorgeous geneology listed out, but it's on the inside flap. The library wraps their books up so tightly to protect the covers that I can't see half of it. Please add it to an additional page or two so all readers can see it and enjoy it.


I've screamed about this more than once. So close, and yet so not accessible!

Penman's books for me give the best balance of description - enough that you can see, but not so much that you are overloaded with minutia (SP). And the one EC book I've read so far is the same :) And I agree with Margaret - the best descriptions are those that have to do with the story. The girl in Slammerkin running down the bad streets of London circa 1700 is a perfect example. Donogue managed to describe that part of the city while at the same time showing you what was happening to the girl in that setting and why
Last edited by Ash on Wed September 17th, 2008, 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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