John, from Riverhead, NY, writes, “I love all the detail in your books. How do you find it, and then decide what to do about it?”
Well, John, the information comes from lots of places; things I have noticed, remembered, read about, or researched. But knowing the details is one thing, what do with it is quite another. There are countless styles of writing. Some writing is very sparse, with almost no physical details. If you look at book of mine such as Who Was That Masked Man Anyway? there is no descriptive detail whatsoever. It’s all dialogue. Then, consider a book like Traitor’s Gate, where there is so much description that one reviewer commented that the City of London (where the story takes place) is depicted in such detail it was virtually a character in the story.
In other words, it is the nature of the book that determines how much and what kind of detail you wish to write. That is to say, detail, or the lack of it, defines the kind of story you are telling. Moreover, the kind of detail you put in makes a big difference. The detail in Crispin helps reveal the medieval world. The detail in Sophia’s War help reveal the cruelty of British Prisons. The details in the Poppy books reveal the characters.
Moreover, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in. I think the best way to decide about detail, is that it should give life to the experience being narrated. Too much detail and you have a textbook. Too little and it’s hard to see the characters.
No wonder folks say, “The Devil is in the details.”