I discovered an odd development with my future noir novel when I showed the first chapter to some friends: I’d given great details to the side characters and none to the leads. The more important a character was to the story, the less I’d said about how they look or move.
Talk about backwards.
Once I realized this, I started making a greater effort to generate greater detail for each character and for the settings. Let me show you an excerpt from Blanc Noir and see what you think:
The young woman stepped into Jeanne’s office, glancing around with weary eyes. A few spots of her shirt were lighter in color, revealing just how hard working in retail packaging must have been.
“Please, have a seat.”
Amelie flopped into the same chair she’d sat in before. The young woman took a deep breath, closing her eyes for just over a second. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m just beat.”
Nodding as she sat, Jeanne said, “I understand.”
The scent drifted across Jeanne’s desk, something beyond sweat. It was a direct smell, stinging the investigator’s nasal passages harder than anything she’d breathed since her time in the military. Her heart sank lower with the news she had to give.
The only reason I didn’t go into much detail on what Amelie’s shirt looks like is because I’d used an earlier scene to describe that. Instead or reusing the same notes, even with different words, I shifted to the condition of her clothes. The “spots… lighter in color” note dry or cleaner patches where the rest of the shirt, as implied later, is soaked with sweat.
This also ties into Amelie’s line, “I’m just beat.” She flops into a chair rather than sitting, she closes her eyes for a moment, her shirt is a mess. And she stinks worse than anything the investigator has smelled in a long time. All these things together should create a vivid, slightly repulsive moment focused on a tired, hard-working woman.
Sure, I could say, “Amelie looked tired,” but that wouldn’t sell her state in the same way.
I was told some time ago that I should use all the senses in describing scenes. Using all the senses, beyond just the visual, can accomplish just that.
Note: My earlier post “Jeanne or Margot?” was meant to generate feedback on the investigator’s name. The except above does not reflect my final decision on that topic, since I am still working on the book at press time.