May 22, 2009

Rule Of Thumb: Fleeting Details

May 22, 2009
This one is brilliant for fantasy stories.

A great way to make your universe feel real, as though it continues to exist outside of your story, is to add moments that imply other stories coexisting within the same universe and leave them unjustified.

One example is in the original Star Wars (full of excellent examples) when Luke, Ben, Threepio and Artoo try to enter the Cantina. The bartender tells Luke that the droids will have to stay outside because "[they] don't serve their kind [there]". This serves no story purpose at all and is never explained but it does wonders to sell that it's a real place with real stuff going on behind the scenes.

Another is in Avatar: The Last Airbender (a television series) at various intervals when our heroes encounter the man with the cabbages. Every time Aang and his gang bump into him throughout their adventures, they obliterate his beloved cabbages. Despite the fact that we never see him outside of these moments, it implies that he's been going around the world to escape our heroes and they keep finding him and destroying his stuff... and it's hilarious.

The best part is that they don't need to tell you anything about the characters or even be explained. Their sole purpose is to add credibility to the world your characters inhabit. However, there is another sort of fleeting detail worth quickly touching upon. Character errors and universe glitches.

A perfect example is in Spirited Away when Chihiro is trying to fill up the spa for the river spirit. She goes to attach a water grade tag to the line when she drops it, so she has to pick another one. One could debate that this only slows things down, but in that moment she becomes so much more real to the viewer than she ever was before.

7 comments:

  1. JRR does that. Virtualy every place or person mentioned has a back-story or at least the sketch of one in the appendices. It brings a plausiblity and depth to the story if it seems to be part of a bigger reality even if that reality is not spelled out in detail.

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  2. Oh yeah, JRR was absolutely brilliant at that. Probably one of if not the best there ever was.

    But let's face it, not all of us are willing to invest THAT much time into one story. :P

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  3. this is great, i remember when i used to write i explained evrything........ every detail.dumb

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  4. Heh, growing up I had the opposite problem. All of my stories would be dramatically under-written.

    My pencil couldn't keep up with my brain so my work would always jump illogically forward with no explanation. :P

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  5. Thought of another good example of a fleeting detail:

    In the episode 'Carentan' of Band of Brothers, there's a piano in the middle of the street. Why would there be a piano in the middle of the street?

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  6. Thats easy, the people who lived there new the war was coming to their doorstep, so most of them bailed, and tried to take their belongings with them, pianos are expensive, but also heavy, you drag one out into the street to load it into a truck, then the first mortar round hits your village, and the piano gets left there as everyone bails.

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  7. Exactly, with one prop, you can instantly convey quite a complex story.

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