Reply To: Student: Cynthia Young Homework Thread

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Linnea Sinclair

I think one of my struggles is figuring out how much detail to put in. I’ve read historical where there is so much detail that I start to skim. I feel there is a balance but haven’t quite figured out what that balance should be. I do have a question regarding Lesson 4. In the past there was more setup and in romances, readers were shown each main character in their ordinary world before they meet. It seems in some recently published novels that they start in the middle of the personal inciting incident. If a romance, the couple is being introduced right away. Is there a trend to not show as much of the ordinary world? It seems shortening that means that word count needs to be devoted to other plot points or the Act I would end up shorter.

Great question! The evil answer is there’s no one solitary correct answer to how much detail to put in, from opening scene to final.

I can give you Linnea’s rule of pinky. What’s normal to the POV character should be written as normal (ie: not a lot of fluff and fireworks). What’s abnormal should stand out (providing it’s logical to do so). If you need to describe something because it’s normal to the character but abnormal to the reader, BREAK IT. Make it malfunction. (I do that a lot in science fiction because I live in worlds between abnormal and normal.)

Remember the scene in the first (iconic) Star Wars movie, where Han and Luke and Chewie and Leia are on the Falcon, trying to escape the bad guys, and Han initiates the hyper-space drive and the ship’s engines go….wah-wah-wah-wummm? An unhappy sound. And everyone jumps off the bridge and heads to the hatchway to access the (malfunctioning) hyper-drive… and so we LEARN a lot about things that can fail and how they work and how to fix them AND that there’s this neato hidden space beneath the decking (which comes in handy later when they have to hide).


That’s how it’s done.

But back to your question. The antique (though it was NEW to your heroine) camera is not daily fare to your readers. If you’re writing a genre where it’s routinely mentioned that the gal buttons up her shoes (even though it’s ordinary to HER), then we need to have some brief but key mentions of something NEW to the reader (an antique huge camera thing). PLUS it seems to me she had pride in the assignment and occupation, so she’d be more aware of certain key THINGS and note them (describe briefly).

A ring on your finger is a ring on your finger but when you get your engagement ring (my son just asked his girlfriend to marry him and she said YES!), then you go around for a month staring at THE RING ON YOUR FINGER as if you’ve never seen such a commodity before.

There is, yes, a trend in commercial genre fiction in the past twenty years to hit the ground running. (Hence, this class…). But I would never do that–I would never do any craft technique if it was wrong for the story. We’ve touched on prologues. They’re considered Not Good. Yet, as mentioned, my GAMES OF COMMAND has one and the RITA-award people (almost unanimously) loved it.

Here’s the other thing about world building and setting: Even if your reader has read ten other novels set in 1860, she’s never read a novel with YOUR character in her specific situation at that specific time, so there are still a bunch of unknowns, even if she’s read ten other 1860 novels. What characters key on and notice is PERSONAL. So, no, don’t do generic description or description as filler. If your character notices something, there MUST be a reason. If you spend a page and a half on a mountain sunset or the sounds of traffic in the city, there MUST be a definite plot- or character-based reason.

Anything you describe in detail, the reader will remember. — Jack Bickham.

There’s a difference between writing filler fluff and crafting richly. Craft richly, more or less so depending on genre.

Is there a trend to not show as much of the ordinary world?

There may be but (pardon my French), screw trends. Be aware of them. If trends work to heighten the interest in your story, use them. But don’t use trends because they’re trends. That alone is guaranteed to kill your voice and make your muse run off with the Brazilian pool boy.

Clear as mud?


//Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//


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