Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Learning to Write Well From the Oddest Sources

Last night was class night at my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) meeting. One of the members taught drop spindle spinning. An ancient technique of spinning fiber into thread. Anyway, the teacher spoke about the history and some of the interesting things that she was learning in her research on the history of spinning. One of the things she said was that a female would spend seven hours a day spinning wool into thread or yarn. They carried their distaff and spindle with them whereever they went. They would spin while they were walking, tending sheep, whatever they were doing that didn't require the use of their hands. Now, what, you ask, does that have to do with writing?

The details in the setting. If the writer knows those little details, then it will make the story richer and fuller. Even if the writer never mentions those details, they will be there subtly.

On the Deluxe Extended version of "Lord of the Rings", there are a lot of documentaries on the making of the film. In particular, the making of the costumes, the set design, and decoration. So much detail went into making the costumes, the sets, the props, real, detail that the viewer never sees, that when you watch the movie on screen the story comes alive. The viewer is transported into Middle Earth, because it looks real.

I am not suggesting that a writer spend an inordinate amount of time on building their world, deciding on the details in the scene or, heaven forbid, dumping it onto the reader. But, if the writer knows some of those details in the background, then it will help build a better story.

Recently, I asked someone where in the world their story was set, because I couldn't tell. They came back with the answer and then said, "It doesn't really matter." No, for that particular story it didn't really matter. And yes, it does matter. The story loses something when the setting is generic. Just as "Lord of the Rings" would have lost something if the costumes hadn't been embroidered, the sword hilts not decorated, the support posts in the Hall not carved.

Before someone decides to counter this, let me say: There will be times when a generic setting is the best setting for the story, but more often than not, it isn't.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, you're in the SCA, how cool! (I'm not active right now but occasionally hit local events if I can or some of the village meetings.)

    Anyway... I agree with you, unless you have a good reason to have a generic setting, some detail and a sense of the world almost always makes a story richer and more fun to read. I love little details (I tend to notice them in movies :P) that add depth and color to a world.