Sunday, June 20, 2010

Details: The Right Pair of Shoes

I spend an enormous amount of time on the details in my novels. It may be "throw away" detail that the reader skims over and soon forgets, but it's the details that make a story a believable interaction with the real world.

My characters have money. Most of them work in fashion. I have a main character (Étienne) who likes to shop for shoes: for himself, for his wife, for his employees.

When I mention what shoes he recently bought, it can be an anchor in time. The first novel in my Fashion and Fiends series takes place in fall 2002. The shoes on the main characters' feet support this.

I once had a professional reader chide me for mistreating a napkin. Apparently she collected linens, and felt it was a terrible thing that my main character was ironing his napkins. This is apparently dangerous for old linens. Except these were everyday modern linens. But she noticed, and it killed my credibility for her. (Which in all honesty, I think I deserve some slack on that one since I didn't have him ironing his grandmother's lace. And besides-- he's a fashion designer, a dressmaker, linens aren't his specialty.)

So maybe it's excessive that I spend a half an hour looking for the perfect pair of shoes for my heroine to fight her battles in, but maybe not. I think the details-- if used correctly-- paint an accurate picture of who these people are.

Let's test a paragraph/scene:

They traveled the rest of the way to the car without speaking. Once Basilie lowered her bottom into the leather seat and turned on the warmer for her back, she kicked off her black patent ballet slippers. She massaged the sole of her foot, thankful she had worn flats. Étienne peered to her, then down to the shoes, one on its side, the other clearly displaying its pale innards and YSL logo.
“You scuffed those today,” he said.
“Can you polish them?” she asked. “I’d like to wear them to the party tonight.”

I like that Basilie doesn't mention, even in her own head, that these are Yves Saint Laurent shoes, until her husband looks at them. And even then it's a minor reference.

What's even more amusing to me is that Basilie is eight months pregnant and just survived a sword fight, and yes she fought the bad guy with a sword, and she's not concerned about her shoes but the upcoming party.

And she expects Étienne to polish them, to fix it, so she can continue looking good and feeling comfortable.

I could continue analyzing this, but you get the idea.

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