Monday, December 5, 2011


Average Girl by Thanksamillion on deviantART

***I have much more exciting news posted here, but I already had this post all plotted out in my head so I'm writing it anyway***

I didn't think it was possible, but I may have found a quality in writing that is more elusive that voice - grounding. Those little details that make a story or a scene or a character real. My favorite example of this comes from C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawntreader:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Immediately, I know this character. I've known people who for whatever reason deserve an identifying trait: a name, a birthmark, hair color. So when I read that this boy deserves a truly awful name, I feel like I know him. Another example pops up in a CP's manuscript:

She sighed and reached back to tie it up with the ancient hair elastic that was always around her wrist.

I ALWAYS have a hair tie on my wrist. It's visible in every one of my wedding photos. Reading that passage, I immediately connected to the main character because it's a real world detail that makes an otherwise distant story real.

I write fantasy. Even when I try to write straight forward contemporary, fantastical elements pop up. I like that sense of otherworldliness when I read, so that's what I write. But even in the most fantastic, unknown worlds, with characters so strange and unreal that they bear no resemblance to mankind, readers need some common point of understanding to connect to the story.

There is a flip side to this, however, when the real world details start sounding like an advertisement. I read an otherwise lovely manuscript once that rattled off 5 or 6 different brand names in the space of the first chapter - and it drove me crazy. While it can help to establish a character or setting, brand popularity can change so quickly that the meaning can disappear overnight. A certain brand of shoes or car or electronic gadget can work very well, but be certain that the meaning won't be lost when trends fade.

Like voice, grounding isn't something I can explain fully or type out a complex how-to. It's harder than that - I know it when I come across it, but even then it's hard to know why. But I can say this: when I read it, I know it. And it's worth working for. Keep at it. You'll know it when you find it.

What are something you've found that ground a story or character? How important do you think grounding is? Share a favorite passage if one comes to mind!


  1. I love that line from CS Lewis, and I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read any of his novel. I KNOW! I'll get on it. A resolution for 2012! A little bit of grounding is important for character development. I think too much of anything isn't good for a novel. A little of this, a little of that! Great post! (and thanks for the title help on twitter! i'm glad i followed you to your blog. it's beautiful!) christy

  2. I think I've read C.S. Lewis more than any other single author :) You're right though, too much grounding can take the magic out of a book. Reading is an escape and too much real world is just that - too much.

    Thanks for following & I'm glad you like the design. I had a lot of fun putting it all together. Good luck with your title. I really think titles are the worst part of querying!

  3. Love C.S. Lewis! And I know exactly what you're talking about! Those little details that just seem so...real. Sometimes they're endearing, sometimes they're repulsive--but they always have that definitive feel of truth. I'm going to try to look out for grounding as I head into another revision of my current WIP.

    Also, I love your blog title. (Latin nerd in the room here!) And I'm now following your blog :)