November 2, 2013

Details, details...

Stories written for children are usually rich in details.  When writers add details to describe a thing or a person, they add them for a purpose.  For instance in one of my stories, the main character wears an amethyst ring on her finger.  Notice the specific detail:  not just a ring, an amethyst ring.  As the story unfolds, we learn that this ring has significance and meaning.  It totally impacts the story. The ring is more than a pretty birthstone. 

Throwing details into a story just for the heck of it is not recommended.  Once, I received a fiction submission in which a detail was added but never mentioned again.  The story was about a kid who went on a thrilling adventure.  Before the child began her journey, the author described where she lived.  In this case, the young child lived in a very odd-shaped building.  But further reference to this detail was never made. Though probably unintentional, the author had teased readers (and editors) and forgotten that his audience would want to know more about this weird house.

The point is, if you include a particular detail in a story, you must come back to it, refer to it, or use it in some way. As Anton Chekhov is quoted, "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.  If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.”  Other variations of his statement include: "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. “  And, “It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."  

When writers include a detail in a story, they need to return to that detail again.  Got a story with a loaded rifle?  An odd-shaped building?  An amethyst ring?  Then, something has to happen or revolve around those things.  If not, those facts must go.  In failing to return to details, you risk letting your audience down.  Dramatic principle requires that every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed.  

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