Prepublishing, Tips & Tricks

1st POV meets Detail

Novice writes think they need to word vomit every detail of a characters surroundings, and this becomes more obvious in 1st POV.

If you try to have the MC walk in a room and give every little detail, the reader’s eyes are going to glaze over and they are going to begin to skim read, missing all that “fine” detail you felt bound to have, and the reader might not stop after three or four paragraphs of skim reading and finish the rest of the book doing that.

Here are some useful ways to determine if you really need that information:

Don’t assume your reader doesn’t understand the basics of a setting. They know what rooms a home would have (living area, cooking area, bedroom area). They understand a stable, even if they’ve never been. They expect certain things in restaurants and in classrooms. Don’t treat your reader stupid.

You can explore some finer details while they interact with their surroundings. You want to show off the blue curtains, have your reader close them after getting home or opening when they get up. Snow globe collection? Have the MC fiddle with them or get one at a store and have to find room for it among the dozens.

You can also invoke other senses instead of just sight. I recommend investing in The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus. This duo can give you sights, sounds, smells, and help you engage the reader in a better way than just info dumping the surroundings.

Unless your character is a pro in a specific field—architecture, fashion, doctor, etc.—they won’t notice a majority of the things you try to describe. This falls back into the “reader expectations” and “common surroundings.” If it’s common for the MC, why would it be noteworthy for the reader? We don’t need that information. On the flip side, if they are a pro, they might notice things you will never notice because you lack the background to choose the correct details. Instead, have the MC interact with the setting—antique dealer might repair things in a museum, therefor the tools and equipment will be used/named.

Another example: We do not need to know every detail on a firetruck. Outside of a firefighter’s manual and working in a bay, we’re not going to know the levers and hose clamps proper names or even the proper skill set. Skim it.

In this example, the MC is a firefighter:

I grabbed the hose with one hand, anchoring it against my body and fighting the bulging monster of water wanting to be free from containment. I flipped the handle back, and all the muscles in my arms tensed to control the spray of water towards my intended target.

We can do the same thing in 3rd POV.

The MC grabbed the hose with one hand, anchoring it against his body, while controlling the spray with the other.

Great. We get that he’s working with an active hose. We didn’t need more info than that. Instead, we can focus on his attention. Where’s he focusing the hose? How does it feel to be swamped in the amount of gear while being that close to a blaze? Does this remind him of another fire? Maybe that’s a good point to put a scene break and pick up after the fire.

Evoke emotion. An example I gave in a recent video was about watching our grandmother making biscuits from scratch. We don’t remember the wallpaper—unless it was that ugly or something we really loved or helped put it up—or the exact configuration of the kitchen. What we remember is watching her mix the butter into the flour, creating a crumble mixture. She’s wipe her hands on her apron and pull the milk from the fridge, pour a little on the mound of flour sitting directly on the counter, and her hands working it into biscuits without a bowl. Mannerisms and emotion are a great combo to explore without info dumping the surroundings.

Here are some extra links to help you master when too much is too much:

Tumblr and Reddit are two of the best forums for writers to get lengthy responses in specific areas with helpful feedback and access to previous conversations about a topic.

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