Details, we need them.

How many passes through a scene does it take for you to get all the details in? For me, it’s around… many. That first draft is really just about plunking down the ideas, and focusing on the characters as a whole. I don’t have too much trouble generating dialog, so my initial drafts always have a lot of it when there are things to be said. My brain seems to effortlessly generate sarcasm and bland expressions which can easily overwhelm a scene. Normally I have to go back through it all with a more critical eye and decide if it actually serves the scene, or just my love for the sound of my own ass-hattery. Sometimes the answer will be both. (happy dance!)

Once I’ve picked over all the dialog and tuned it to the exact frequency I like, then I just sit around being proud of myself for awhile. Ideally I should walk away from it here, because the scene is nowhere near finished, but I can never seem to remember that until after I’ve embarrassed myself by showing it to someone. Then I’ll sit in front of my computer for a while poking at the problems that are now completely visible and making me regret my excitement. (insert heavy, self-judgmental sigh)

Now that I’ve reached the stage of realistic I can start putting in details. This includes everything from hair, clothing, furniture and facial tics to weather, time and background noise. It’s really a lot like building a world for your Sims. There are always things that need to be accounted for in every scene or your reader isn’t going to be able to appreciate the world you are creating. The main things I tend to overlook are weather and surroundings. What does the room look like? Is there furniture? What about décor? What’s the character’s kitchen scheme reflect? Is it glitzy and showy, or practical? Is there a toaster? Does she use it? If she doesn’t use it, then why does she have it? Maybe I should change it to a coffee maker.

And what about the weather? The sun is always somewhere, even if somewhere is the other side of the planet. Is the wind blowing? Rain? How about a storm? What time of day is it? The beginning of Smashing Pumpkins starts with a wind storm, and I found myself forgetting that in spots as I worked on other characters. Everyone is existing in the same place during the same time frame. This means they all have the same weather. Some of them will undoubtedly be talking about it because that’s what people do. We talk about the weather.

Personality quirks are another thing to think about. Where did they come from? Why does that guy always twitch and look hungry when someone says the word camel? That didn’t just happen, it started somewhere. So figure it out. Even if you never tell your reader that the man once crossed a desert with only a small, black button for a companion, the fact that you know it will go a long way toward helping you make that character three dimensional.

After all of that thinking and discovering, there are times when I’ll go back and rework a scene days, weeks or even months after I thought it was finished. You really never know what detail you might have missed, or may have to add, until you reach the actual end. My appreciation for detail has really grown in this past year, and I know my work reflects. Detail has slowed down my production, but really, I was going to fast anyway. I needed the bumps in the road to show me the problems with my car. I can still draft at full speed, but my consciousness of detail has changed the feel of the final product.

If you want to join me on Patreon for the final push of Smashing Pumpkins I’ll drop the link on you next Monday. Launch day is September 24th! A single dollar will get you access to the finished chapters as they roll out, and I could really use your support.

As always, I wish you the best of your inspirations and hope you are living your dream.

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Dak – Part One

Dak lay on his right side with his little, black snout pointing at the base of the toilet, almost touching the visible crack left from last Spring’s repair job.  His small, now cloudy brown eyes stared emptily into the space between the toilet and the wall while his back legs lay draped on a thin, pink pillow shoved against the side of the bathtub.  She had never seen the pillow before.

“Kayla?  Honey, what’s taking you so long?”

Jamie’s voice grew louder as she walked from the hallway into their bedroom.  Her heavy, booted footsteps stopped just outside the bathroom door.

“Kayla?”

Pulling her shocked gaze away from the dead, gray terrier she turned to face her wife with shiny, wet eyes, her right hand automatically reaching out, groping for support.  Her voice cracked with emotion.

“Jamie, Dak is dead.”  Protectively she filled the doorway, using her body as a shield between Jamie and their dead dog.  “Something has happened.”

Jamie’s small, not quite heart shaped face, expanded with alarm, her pale, blue eyes bugging slightly in their sockets.  The grip of her hand, initially reassuring, slackened.

“What?  What do you mean he’s dead?  What happened?”  Always the more nurturing one, Jamie pressed forward, trying to see past her into the bathroom.  Her voice rose in panic.  “Kayla, get out of my way.  Let me see!”  Three inches shorter but muscled like an iron-worker, Jamie used her shoulder to shove through the doorway.

Helplessly, Kayla watched Jamie take in the scene, her short, blond hair looking bristly in the stark bathroom lighting. Without looking she knew her own auburn locks looked like they belonged on a plastic, doll.  They always talked about changing the bulb to something softer, but never did.

“Oh Dak.”  Jamie’s voice was almost a whisper.  “Oh Dak, what happened?” Crouching, she reached to touch the body and Dak’s head rolled loosely against the floor making a sound similar to someone cracking their knuckles.  

“Jesus!”  Yelping in surprise Jamie fell on her butt.  Her boots thundered against the tile floor as she scrambled backward crashing into Kayla’s shins and staggering them both.

“I don’t know what happened, Jay.  I just walked in and found him.”  Putting her hands on her wife’s shoulders she squeezed gently.  “It must have happened while we were out.”  Feeling Jamie’s body tremble she dropped to her knees and wrapped both arms around her.  

“I’m sorry, baby.  I’m so sorry.”  The apology was instinctive.  Jamie had loved Dak with the fierceness of a lioness.  The small terrier had been the child she could never have.  Turning inside her embrace Jamie pressed her face into her shoulder, her body hitching with sobs.  Kayla’s own tears trailed silently down her cheeks to drop unnoticed on Jamie’s hair.  

Her eyes dragged themselves back to Dak’s body, horrifying her with the need to stare at the now obvious broken neck.  The pink pillow under the dog’s back end stuck out boldly in the beige and blue bathroom decor.  Where had that come from?  Neither of them had a pillow like that, not even as a left-over childhood momento.  It looked uneven and thinly stuffed, like something a kid might make when they were first learning to sew.  Her brain struggling to work again, she gave Jamie another squeeze and tried to ease her away as her heart sped up with fresh alarm.

“Jay, get up.  Someone has been here.”  She felt Jamie stiffen and watched her expression change, the puffy, leaking eyes narrowing as her lips parted enough to be the precursor of a snarl.

“What do you mean?”

Kayla raised an arm to wave at the pink pillow.

“Is that yours?  That pillow?”

“Of course not, it’s hideous.”  Her voice was sharp and bitter, as if she were annoyed to have to acknowledge the pillow at all.  “It looks like that stomach medicine.”

“It’s not mine either,” Kayla stated as her eyes snapped to Jamie’s face, magnetized by the sudden harshness of her tone.  “Where did it come from?”

Pushing away, Jamie got her feet under her and stood up.  With one hand she smoothed her hair down, staring at her palm as she brushed through the wet spot where Kayla’s tears had landed.

“You cried on me.”

Cocking her head to the side, Kayla stared at her wife.  Jamie wasn’t looking at her, just staring at her hand like it was repulsive.

“Jay, did you hear what I said?”

Jamie nodded and wiped her hand against her jeans, still not looking at Kayla.

“Yeah, you asked if the pillow was mine.”

“Before that I said someone has been here.”  Feeling like something was wrong, more wrong than just their dead terrier she fixed her eyes on Jamie and waited.

Satisfied that her hand was dried, Jamie looked up at her and nodded again.

“Of course I heard you, babe.  Just because I’m crying doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”  The bitter tone was back in her voice.

“What’s wrong with you?”  Kayla took half a step backward, her heel landing on the bedroom carpet.  Her heart leaped into her throat when Jamie laughed harshly.

“What’s wrong with me?  My dog is dead!  What wrong with you?”

“He was my dog too!”  Stung, she looked away as more tears filled her eyes.

“Shit.  I’m sorry, Kay.”  Jamie  stepped close and put her hand on her arm.  “I didn’t mean that.”

Overwhelmed, Kayla could only nod as she began to cry again.  Jamie’s body pressed against her and her arms wrapped around her in a mirror image of their position only moments before.

“We need to sort this out, babe.”  Jamie’s voice was soft but firm against her scalp.

Looking again at Dak’s body, Kayla tensed, her eyes drawn to what looked like a small, brown stick poking out from under the pillow.

“What is it?”  Drawing back, Jamie peered at her, then turned to see what she was looking at.

“Someone killed our dog.”  She sniffled.

Monologue #23

Another late post.  I’m struggling to get things done for myself right now.  By this time next week my schedule will be different and I will be learning to function in a different time slot.  I’m looking forward to this a lot.  After being on third shift for five years, the idea of being able to sleep at night rather than during the day is like a rainbow spreading over my spirit.  Knowing that I’m in the last days of perpetual daylight seems to be causing extreme tiredness though.  It’s like my body knows that real sleep is coming and is already trying to get to it.

Before I go, here’s a quick work-related story.  

I was talking with a coworker about Lemon Wedges, which is my nickname for a certain customer who comes in pretty much every night.  The name came from her particular habit of eating lemon wedges in their entirety.  Pulp, seeds, rind, all of it.  The whole wedge goes in her mouth and nothing comes back out.  After relating this curious fact to my coworker, he stared at her for a few seconds, shrugged and said, “She always reminds me of Misery.  You know, that book by Stephen King?”  I promptly leaped aboard the Fiction Train and let it carry me off for the rest of the night.  Finding the Wand Maker from Harry Potter was the pinnacle of my work day!

Snippet #16

Laying flat on her stomach with her arms tucked mantis style beneath her, and her thick, dark, ponytail draped back over one shoulder, Haley hovered her face above the surface of the pond, her breath making the barest of ripples on the water.  Her time inside it had ended long ago, but to be able to watch, and breathe, and see the effect her very existence had upon those that came after; that was the true blessing of having lived at all.  The ripples she caused were small and avoidable, barely noticeable to those inside.  It was just enough to keep them trying.  Enough to keep things from being easy.

Every now and then, she would roll onto her back and stare into the sky above that was always black and shimmering with stars, and wonder who was breathing ripples down onto her?