Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nitty Gritty Details by Andy Scheer

My Saturday car shopping trip alerted me to a detail I'd forgotten in my novel.

My story won't include car-shopping -- at least not for anything like a 2004 Jetta wagon. But when my son-in-law inspected the spare tire compartment, I remembered a telling, tiny detail.

The Jetta's previous owner lived where all the roads aren't paved. While the detailers had cleaned and polished the rest, they'd neglected the spare tire bay. All around the tire, and inside some hidden storage compartments, we found a layer of fine, tan dust.

Suddenly I remembered my years of driving unpaved roads to work – the billowing clouds that followed me and the fine layers of silt that worked its way into every crevice.

It's something my protagonist, a jazz musician in 1925 Indiana, would regularly experience. That's where things get tricky. To my character, it's a normal detail of life. But it's also a subtle way to give readers a sense of that era.

Likewise the smell of coal smoke, the hiss of steam, and the fine black grit that blows into the open windows of coaches behind a locomotive. Start the trip with a white shirt and by the end of the day it's gray, with darker deposits around the cuffs and collar. Good thing those celluloid Arrow collars detach.

At my upcoming visits to antique car museums, I plan to pay special attention and take lots of photos of pre-1925 models. I know only a few of those details will make their way into the story. But at this point, I can't know which.

I want to include enough grit for my story to ring true.


Rick Barry said...

This is a fun post, and it reinforces an important truth: movies can't engage all the senses of their viewers, but authors can (and should) engage readers with smells, tastes, and the sense of touch on top of obvious sights and sounds. Sensory details can only enliven the tale, regardless of genre.

Andy, perhaps a story involving antique autos could also mention airborne insects, fog that moistens skin and clothing, splashed water from mud puddles, or the rich aroma of chimney smoke in eras when more people used fireplaces for heating? Just a few thoughts.

Andy Scheer said...

The thousand-plus miles so far in the Model A have certainly brought to my senses the smell of gasoline (Model T's had their gas tank under the front seat; Model A's in the cowl, plus the scent of hot motor oil. And lots of rattles. But there sure is a nice breeze when you tilt out the bottom of the windshield.