Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Little Things Count



I was sitting on the patio in the backyard watching the world go by, and it struck me that little things really can make a difference in a book. I’m fudging. Our yard is surrounded by a block wall, so watching the world go by consisted of observing critters.

About a half dozen new (to me) breed of bird have shown up. They’re a charcoal grey with a tan chest and sides, and they’re about the size of a quail. These little birds don’t exactly chirp. They make a squeaky noise. In fact, they first caught my attention because one of them actually sounds like the dogs’ squeaky toys. That one got the dogs’ attention, too, and we had barking dogs running all over the yard trying to find the toy. Too funny.

I also saw a chipmunk go flying through the yard recently. The little varmint has been eating my tomatoes, and I’m not a happy camper, but whadda ya gonna do? It’s cute, very fast and probably a lot hungrier than I am.

We have roadrunners who come visit every day. One of them (we call her Gertrude) has been coming for about four years. They even bring their babies along on occasion.

We have quail, hawks, ducks (a duck ate all the baby fish from our pond), and once in a while we see coyotes.

These are all good characters for setting a scene in a book.

Is it better to say, “There were birds in the trees” or “The odd sounds the small black birds made reminded me of the dogs’ squeak toys”? “I saw a quail” or “A quail perched on the rooftop of the neighbor’s house repeatedly calling to its mate”?

“I saw a coyote” or “While I walked the dogs, a coyote paced us on the other side of the street”? Yes, this has happened. The dogs make a point of not noticing the coyote, and he ignores them, too. It works to their mutual advantage. The dogs are as big as the coyote. He just doesn’t know they have a few “fear” issues. Small ankle-biters scare the heck out of them.

But I digress. If you use more description (but not too much), it allows the reader to picture what’s going on and feel a part of the story.

“A regal-looking hawk rested on a limb of the top-heavy mesquite tree, keeping a wary eye out for dinner or predators.” Just to show how much I don’t know, I thought the hawk was an owl until I showed the photo I took to my husband and he kindly corrected me.

So add critter watching to your people watching. Whether your protagonist is in the city or the country, you can add a lot to the scene and story with birds or any other animal.

Now take a break and go watch and listen in your backyard. You might be glad you did, and hopefully it’ll give you an excuse to relax for a while.

5 comments:

John J. Lewis said...

When I write scene depicting the outdoors, I always throw in the sounds of nature, whether they are from dogs, birds, or trees. If the story takes place in a suburban area, I try to do the same, but comment on how it interacts with the city. Description in such a way gives a real sense of pause, I feel. I mean, how many times have we spent talking with someone only to watch a crow hop across a lawn, possibly carrying a french fry?

marja said...

It's so easy to forget to includes sounds, and they really do help set a scene. Thanks for the reminder.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Funny, John! And thanks Marja for the post. We all need reminding sometime. Beryl

Julie Luek said...

I live in the mountains of Colorado and my environment is very key to how I perceive the world, that includes all the critters. I love your description suggestions too-- really enhances the visual for the reader.

marja said...

Thank you, Beryl. By the way, your name would make a great character name.

Julie, Thank you. I love a book that lets me visualize the location. If I can smell the scents or "hear" the sounds, even better.