The devil in the detail for fiction writers

Mercado do Lavradores cr Judy DarleyAuthor Richard Francis has written nine published novels, including The Old Spring. In today’s guest post, he explains why he believes the true power in fiction writing lies in the details.

In the book I am currently writing one of my characters imagines having been dead for billions of years; then some random bubble in the tissue of space-time takes him back to the world again, to a village shop. There in front of him is a packet of Tide, a jar of marmite, a box of liquorice allsorts, and suddenly, long after the human race has ceased to exist, our world returns for a moment in all its particularity.

In Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu,  the smell of a madeleine dipped in tea takes the narrator all the way back to the lost time of his childhood, and the very title of the novel means to compare small things with great – or small things with greater small things.

The earth has been photographed turning majestically through space, but it is most poignantly relatable through its tiniest, apparently must mundane, components.

Use details to make fiction come alive

Classical tragedy focused on kings, queens and princes don’t because they gave their audience, who for the most part would not have been kings and princes themselves, access to a simplified world in which experiences could be presented in concentrated form, without anyone needing to go to the shops or the lavatory (kings, queens and princes don’t).

All that changed with the invention of the novel. Tristram Shandy, written by Laurence Sterne in the 18th century, begins with the hero’s conception: at the crucial moment his mother asks his father if he remembered to wind up the clock. Romeo and Juliet it isn’t but, as Tristram claims, the sudden intrusion of the petty can determine the course of much of life (and therefore in turn plays a vital part in making fiction come alive). Continue reading