Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Devil’s in the Details

By Ginny Padgett

I’ve never understood that adage, “The Devil’s in the details.” I think details are important, especially in fiction writing. When an author enters into an unspoken contract with her reader to suspend belief while engaged with her story, she should reciprocate with verifiable details (or in the case of fantasy, consistent details) to transform imagination into reality.

I am reading Scott Turow’s, Burden of Proof. Early on in this long novel, he tells us about a woman who has recently worked in her garden (100 or so miles west of Chicago) in early spring to tidy up the gladiola foliage left behind from last summer’s growth. It ruined the entire story for me because gladiolas totally die back by fall, even here in the much warmer climate of Columbia, SC.

This made me distrust the entire world Turow created, much of which revolves around trading futures on the stock exchanges, resulting grand jury proceedings and the pursuant court case. The plot is framed on the inner workings of financial markets and legal maneuverings, and if I’m going to slog through these specifics, I want them to be accurate.

Turow broke the contract between him and me. I think less of him because he seemed to think I wouldn’t notice that he didn’t do his homework when he added details to develop this character. The growing season of gladiolas is a minor detail in this book of 515 pages, but it was enough for me to reclaim my suspended belief.

I guess that’s how I came to be known as the “detail person” in our critique group. Maybe it’s my training in journalism that makes getting the facts right so important to me, or maybe it’s just my personality. In any case, I think, “Successful fiction writing is in the details.” I challenge you to get them right. Does that make me the Devil?


Anonymous said...

It does not make you the Devil,
it will make you the Devilette

Shaun said...

No! It makes you the spotter of devils, which is always nice to have around.