Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Details

And for Decemberists

The first time I thought about the saying was when my then boss, Debbie, asked me "Is it 'God is in the details' or 'the devil is in the details?" This was before the internet, when google meant a fantastic number followed by 100 zeros and was not a verb, so I couldn't just whip up some info. I had to think; Is it God or the devil that is in the details?

It turns out it's both, and that both sayings mean the same thing - pay attention to detail. When it's 'god' it means that paying attention to the little things is where you'll succeed; when it's 'the devil', it's a warning, don't get the details wrong or you'll be in hot water (or lava, or ice floes or whatever they're using down in the 9th ring these days.)

Details are so important to me as a reader and a writer, and I'm not what's known as 'detail oriented.' I don't plan every detail in advance, I'm not meticulous - I'm pretty intuitive and sometimes sloppy. But details are the handholds into a story for me. It's the detail, the kind that grabs me and doesn't let go, that keeps me in thrall. In a book I just finished, Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeves, it was the detail of white rubber coats that kept coming back to me. This did so much - it was a uniform reserved for a special class of people, it was used as a disguise, it was a visual echo of mundane lab coats in our world and it was wonderfully textural.

Small things, planted like seeds through the story, that's what I'm looking for. Specific, odd, beautiful, compelling and sticky so that I can't let the detail go. Don't underestimate the power of the detail to deliver god and the devil.

What are some interesting details that hooked you in a book recently?


  1. For me, right now - it's the DEVIL in the details, I'm editing... and taming him. ;-)

    I can't think of details I've read recently...but I do like hand movements in scenes if that makes sense.


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