Wednesday, January 4

The Ordinary Princess and an Overload of Detail

Where last we left our heroine, we couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The whole story hinged on the smallest of details. Without which, we have no story. We had to keep track of what made Princess Amy unique and all the tiny cracks in her universe that serve as proof that it’s all real.
So at this crucial moment of terrible strain—what could possibly be worse?—we as writers should ratchet up the stress of the story and throw in another unexpected twist.
Please, no.
Let’s all calm down, take a deep breath, and step away from the crazy muse beating your head in. I say “yours,” because mine is just fine. I never get sucked into too many details.
 Wait. I’m a writer. Who am I kidding?
As authors, details are one of the biggest pitfalls we face. We can become so fascinated with the level of detail we put into our stories that we can’t tell the story straight. Of course, the other danger is to allow the details to keep you from finishing your story. (And no, for those of you who know who I mean, this is a gentle nudge of encouragement. Not a cattle prod of shame.)
M.M. Kaye, the author of The Ordinary Princess, once said that she first wrote the story in a hurry. Princess Amy, she said, was in a rush to get it told. This is a wonderful example of two things. First, the writer letting the character have a voice. (Which we’ll cover in more detail when we talk about characterization.) Second, the writer allowing the story to have its own speed.
Now, The Ordinary Princess is not a frenzied story. It skips along at a nice pace, completely in keeping with the nature of the fairy tale and the particular charm of the characters. Which is that Princess Amy and King Peregrine love simple, normal things. They are not fancy people who take four hours to dress. They rescue wounded birds and know the names of their servants’ children and love to give presents they made with their own hands.
You see, the details do not have to be repeated over and over, or written in such painstaking terms that their sincerity is unmistakable. The details, however, must be consistent. Find the one thread in all of a particular character that makes him (or her) valuable in your story, and let your details grow naturally out of that character trait. Be it simplicity, or humor, or willingness to sacrifice for others, that most important thing should be the source of all the fun little details. 
Don’t worry. Your readers will connect the dots. You don’t even need to leave a thick trail of breadcrumbs. Just drop a single white stone every few paces.
When the readers turn around, lost in the wonder of the forest you’ve written for them, they will easily see the path home. But that is also a fairy tale for another day...

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