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24 June 2013

Savoring the Moment - in Life & in Literature

My 18-month-old daughter Mélanie and I have a routine on most days. In the late morning, we go to the local outdoor mall and settle in at the Peet's Coffee & Tea, where the staff are incredibly friendly and welcoming (where I sit now writing this post and sipping a latte while Mel eats fruit salad). When she's ready for the some play time, we talk around the mall, play with the toys at Pottery Barn Kids (where they are also incredibly welcoming), look at the clothes at J. Crew (ditto on welcoming and where Mummy has been known to use our rambles as an excuse to pick up a new pair of ballet flats or a cardigan). And we almost always visit the play park. Mélanie loves other kids and there are almost always kids to play with at the park. One afternoon this week we met a nice family with a very cute 10-month-old. For once Mélanie, who tends to be the one of the younger ones in a group of kids, was the big girl.
Like me, the 10-month-old's mom was telling me how she's trying to savor every moment of his growing up. It was such a good reminder to hold on to the moments. Like sitting on a bench with Mélanie that same afternoobn sharing her first ice cream cone. Or stopping at an outdoor restaurant last night after a local Art & Wine Festival and appreciating Mel's dexterity with the tortilla chips as she sat up like a big girl in her high chair.

Revising my WIP, I began to think about savoring the moment as a writer. Particularly in historical fiction, it's often those moments that make the setting and era come to life. The shimmer of candlelight on damask wall hangings. The sent of the orange trees in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The gnarled branches of the plane trees in Berkeley Square against the pale charcoal of a twilight sky. Doing up the strings on a gown, lacing or unlacing a corset. Yet at the same time, lingering too long over such details can slow the pace, particularly in historical suspense which I write. Sometimes in revisions I find myself pruning to hone in on the key details that bring a scene to life and make sure I'm moving from plot point to plot point. Other times I layer in more details. Or I realize I need some quiet moments of my protagonists savoring their own life in order to give a contrast to the adventure (particularly true in my WIP as Malcolm and Suzanne have a new one-year-old). I'm never quite sure I get the balance right - it's difficult to judge in one's own book, though I do find it a bit easier on a revision, when I've had a couple of weeks away from the manuscript.

What moments in your life have you stopped to savor recently? Writers, how do you find a balance between lingering over moments and descriptive detail and keeping your story moving forward?

photo: Raphael Coffey

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4 Comments:

Blogger Rappleyea said...

What a beautiful picture of you and your daughter! And what wonderful and loving memories you're building for her.

I think you hit the perfect balance between detail - I'm always fully in your world with Suzanne and Malcom - and the pacing of your plot. I'm usually on the edge of my seat with your action, breathlessly turning pages until the end.

And I think even stronger than your setting details are your characterizations. I, unfortunately, find a great deal of similarity between most historical romance characters. Not yours! They are extremely well-drawn and remain living, breathing human beings in my memory long after I've finished the book.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Every once in a while I have one of THOSE moments where you look up and realize you're in San Francisco and it's fricken beautiful! It's so easy to forget you're in one of the top cities in the world because it becomes mundane.

As a writer, I think I tend to be overly lingery (not a word, but it should be!). I like all the little nuances of clothing and setting. But I try not to go on and on. Just like I try not to spend too much time on descriptions of the characters themselves. I like to pick ONE thing that the other protagonist really notices and is attracted to and let that be the thing that I touch upon repeatedly through the book (hands, voice, laugh, hair, etc.).

2:41 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

That is so great to hear, Rappleyea! It's really hard as I said in the post to know how the pacing is working in one's own book or how the characters are coming across (I find them fascinating as a writer, but it's a bit of approaching it by approximation when it comes to conveying that to the reader. And glad you like the photo - my friend Raphael Coffey, who is a wonderful professional photographer, took it with his iPhone on Valentine's Day!

3:11 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I have those same moments, Isobel - it's easy to take living in such a gorgeous place for granted!

I too love it when I can find a few key descriptive phrases that bring a setting or a character to life and weave them into the narrative. Sometimes I have to write much longer descriptions in order to arrive at those phrases and then prune, as I said in the post!

3:36 PM  

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