Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Thoughts About Hooking Readers

Oh, the hurly-burly!
I love it when stories include specific details that give insight into the character or the world. Finding just-right details is a great way to make sure you’re showing, and not just telling.

In commercial fiction, it might mean using a brand name, though it doesn’t have to.

In Spells and Sleeping Bags by Sarah Mlynowski, Rachel doesn’t just state, “I’m not mean to my sister.” She says, “I don’t pull my sister’s hair or rip off her Barbies’ heads.”

Great specific details--and then the character spins off on a tangent about how she doesn’t actually have Barbies any more … okay, fine, she does, but she doesn’t play with them any more. Much.

Awesome characterization! Now we know Rachel is a young teen, and that she still has a sentimental attachment to the Barbies she’s (almost) outgrown … don’t we all?

In Maggie Bean Stays Afloat by Tricia Rayburn, it’s not just “She was trying to decide what kind of gum to get.”

It’s also “Bubbilicious and Bubble Yum had tons of sugar, while Trident and Carefree had none, and were therefore the better, healthier option, but that didn’t make the decision much easier.” From this, I know that Maggie lives in my world … and that she knows what’s healthy, but sometimes has other priorities. Again, I can relate!

Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister by Liz Kessler could have simply stated, in a telling sort of way, “I don’t like helping my parents with their party planning business any more.”

Instead, Kessler shows us: “It used to be fun, I suppose--when I … actually liked being driven around in a bright yellow VW van with pictures of clowns and jesters and rabbits on the side; when I didn’t know that there was any such thing as a problem that couldn’t be sorted out with tickle therapy.”

This not only gives us a good visual image of the goofy-looking van, it deepens our understanding of Philippa and her parents.

In Jeanne Birdsall's delightful novel, The Penderwicks, it’s not just, “Skye looked bored.”

It’s “Skye was blowing out her cheeks and imitating a fish, which meant she was even more bored than Rosalind had feared.”

And in my childhood favorite, The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, we aren't just told that Old Witch "does a lot of magic.” Instead, she's “chanting runes, doing abracadabras, casting spells and hurly-burlies …”

Hurly-burlies! That sends a shiver down my spine.

When I flip through a book and rich, interesting details jump out at me, I know the book is likely to be worth the read.

If you have a favorite author who makes good use of specific detail, please share in the comments.


Andrea Mack said...

These are great examples! It is so important to choose the right details. As I revise my novel, that's something I pay a lot of attention to.

Anonymous said...

Yup, God and the devil are in the details. I am a huge fan of Kate diCamillo. I would read anything she wrote, even her grocery lists.

Because of Winn-Dixie has a great opening: My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.

How can you not read on?


Anne E. Johnson said...

You're spot on with this. There's nothing like tickling a topic rather than just spelling it out to whet the reader's curiosity.

Mirka Breen said...

Good examples for the suggestion to make a specific reference. It is part of what makes it vivid.

Marcia said...

Yes, details are so important in making the story world real and convincing. They can do so much work in just a little space!

Angie Sandro said...

This were great examples. I love how visual and alive they are, and it's something I need to keep in mind when I'm writing.

inluvwithwords said...

I love Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Here's a great bit that uses specific details: "The only grown-up my dad really talks to in person, other than my Mom, is Hugh the UPS guy. Hugh has big teeth and a bushy mustache. He's bald and in the winter you can see steam rise off his head." Great stuff!!

Ruth said...

Oh, yes, Vijaya, that's great. I love Kate DiCamillo too.

inluvwithwords, I haven't read A Crooked Kind of Perfect yet, but I'm adding it to my list. I've heard so many wonderful things about it.