The Devil is in the Details
Over on Manuscript Mavens, Erica has a great blog today about creating sexual tension with effective use of details. And Lacey suggested I blog about this, too. Well, okay! Actually, I’ve been looking for an excuse to post a some kind of excerpt from Goddess of Beauty, so this works well.
Details are everything, aren’t they? I’m still learning how to incorporate them smoothly – historical details, physical details, backstory details – but I know this is something I’m doing much better in GOB than I did in GOTH. This is in large part because I did much more research before beginning this book. So I have more details at the ready. I’ve also given my characters qualities that make them keen observers – the heroine is an artist, so she has an eye for color, line, beauty. The hero is accustomed to sizing up the quality and worth of things – and people – in a glance. So one lesson I’ve learned is, give your characters a unique look on the world. That way, the details they notice can be different from what anyone around them notices, and therefore A) worthy of mention, and B) revealing, in terms of characterization.
Specifically regarding sexual tension – I just love it when the hero notices details about the heroine that no one else does, and vice versa. There’s a lot of that going on in GOB.
Another thought – when you want to describe a scene vividly for the reader, I’ve found it helps to write that scene through the POV of a character who is also viewing that locale for the first time. If you’re describing a piece of farmland from the POV of the farmer who has lived and worked there all his life, it’s much harder (for me at least) to work in setting description than if you use the POV of an orphaned heiress who’s never set foot outside London. If the scene is new to the character, you can justify a lot more detail.
In the comment trail, the Mavens were talking a lot about making sure the details are organic and tie into the POV character’s emotion and conflict. That’s an excellent point. A laundry-list of descriptive phrases, no matter how beautifully written, can’t further the story or heighten the conflict or increase the sexual tension unless it affects the character on a deeper level than casual observation.
So, I could say that my heroine reminds my hero of springtime, for instance – new shoots of grass unfurling in the sun, tender blossoms exuding their sweet fragrance, skin as soft as downy kittens, etc. All of those are lovely things. But unless there’s some reason for him to start down this train of thought, the details don’t add up to much. Contrast that with this bit from Goddess of Beauty, where the sensory details have a definite cause and a discernible effect:
(What’s happened here is that the ship is becalmed in tropical waters, they’re alone, and it’s hot. In more ways than one. Apologies to the Vanettes, who’ve already read it!)
It was beastly hot.
Feeling drowsy and sluggish, Gray hooked a finger under his sweat-dampened cravat and tugged. He stole a glance at Miss Turner over his book. Her pale muslin gown had wilted with the heat, clinging to her form in a most appealing manner. She rotated her neck slowly, stretching with a lithe, sensual grace.
“Is there any more water?” Gray asked, tilting his head toward the tin ewer.
“No.” She took up a handkerchief and pressed it to her brow, then her glistening, flushed décolletage.
Gray shifted uncomfortably, feeling a new source of heat pool in his groin. “I’ll get after Grub to bring more. In a minute.” He bent his head and closed his eyes and tried to think of anything cool. Those pretty flavored ices all the fashion in
Mayfair, the ones he’d be certain take Bel to sample. The trout stream in Wiltshire where he’d spent that summer between years at . Ale, fresh from the cellar in winter. Snow. Cambridge
Gray had a sudden image of Miss Turner standing in an English winterscape, dressed in rich velvet and dusted with powdery white snowflakes. Tiny crystals of ice clinging to her fur-trimmed gloves, her mantle, her hair, her thick fringe of eyelashes. Her pale skin contrasting with plump, flushed lips. An angelic apparition.
Except that he couldn’t do to an angel what Gray saw himself doing with this snow goddess. He imagined himself licking a snowflake from her cheek, and his tongue curled around the sharp burst of cold. In his mind’s eye he tasted another, and another – and they were sweet. She was a rose-flavored ice, a delicacy beyond anything he’d ever tasted, and he was devouring her, taste by impossibly tiny taste. Snowflake by snowflake. Until he tumbled her back into the snow, bared the delicious curves of her body – and feasted.
The shout rang out twice before Gray jolted fully awake.
So there’s your first taste of Gray. Hungry for more? *wink*
Other thoughts about details?