Thursday, 12 September 2019

It is all about the detail by Vanessa Harbour

Firstly, I must apologise for a slightly shorter post, but it is the chaos just before the start of the semester and our MA students are about to hand in their dissertations. I am even giving feedback in my sleep at the moment!

I have recently been lucky enough to read an uncorrected proof copy of Sally Gardner’s Invisible in a Bright Light. A book I loved and one you should definitely get when it is published. I loved it because the language and imagery were so rich. Sally Gardner, as always, was very adept at painting a picture with her words. Sometimes it can be a single word or a short sentence that paints a thousand words in the mind of the reader – I think that is possibly something we are all aiming for.

This is a topic I discuss a lot with both my students and the writers I work with at the Golden Egg Academy. It is the importance of details. It can make such a difference and convey so much information. For example, a reader is going to create a different impression of someone who drives a battered old red mini to someone who might be driving a bright red Ferrari. Clichéd, but you get the general idea.

It is a mistake I often see in early drafts and from ‘new’ writers. The information given is very basic. Giving nothing for the reader to work with. There is a caveat here, however. I am not suggesting great long descriptions should be included in the form of 'info dumps'. Another common mistake made. There is nothing worse and it takes the reader away from the narrative. It is all about dropping hints in that the reader can work with.

When I am writing I try to be more specific about colours. Instead of just saying green go for emerald green, instead of blue go for maybe a cobalt blue. Building on the colours so the reader has a better sense of what particular shade of colour you are suggesting. Using different names to make the reader think and experience within the narrative. There are two fabulous books that I use as a resource. They are glorious to just explore and can be a great source of inspiration if you are feeling blocked with your writing too.

The books are called:

Werner's Nomenclature of Colours by Patrick Syme published by The Natural History Museum (2018)


The Secret Lives of Colour  by Kassia St Clair published by John Murray (2018)

These are not the only resources on colour but the two I love the most. 

Recently, I was very flattered when I heard that my novel, Flight (Firefly) was being used as a research source because it was felt the way I wrote about horses was authentic This was hugely satisfying because I had done a great deal of research into horses, watching them, reading about them, learning as much as I could etc. Trying to get those tiny details right.

I must be honest when writing I do think it is important to try to get the detail correct as much as possible. I will spend a long-time researching information. Personally, I enjoy that side of writing, in the same way, I enjoy reading books that are rich with language and imagery. As a lecturer and mentor, one of the most satisfying feelings is when you see someone you are working with having a lightbulb moment as they realise the difference a detail can make to their writing. Seeing how it brings the text to life on the page.

I hope you all enjoy painting pictures with your words and once again apologies for this brief post. Will do better next month.

Dr Vanessa Harbour


Mystica said...

I am not a writer, but I do like well written books. I enjoyed the informative post.

Ness Harbour said...

Thank you for your kind comments, I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

LuWrites said...

This is great post, Ness! Will definitely be using this in one of the adult creative writing classes I'm teaching in Wells, so thank you! x