French Impressionist exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins museum last week and I came away feeling very inspired. Not so much by the art and photographs but by the subject matter of the exhibit.
Several photographs showed things being built, things that are now about two hundred years old.
Add in the scenes of nature, including glaciers, that are now likely gone and it's a kind of sad commentary that things change so much but also a reminder that they do. Cautionary, actually.
As a document about a place in time, a fixed point if you will, it's a beautiful piece. The history is fascinating and plenty of context is available. I highly recommend spending the $8 a head and going if you're in the area.
But what really stuck with me as we drove home that day was all the details of daily life I saw in so many paintings. These are things that describe perfectly what a day was like at the beach or just trying to get work or run errands. Life wasn't all that different two hundred years ago than it is today no matter how much we might wish it. The concerns are the same even though the details aren't.
Walking through the exhibit I kept thinking to myself 'world building' over and over. The details of a bridge or the figure in front of the castle posed there to show the size of the massive structure stuck with me.
The first draft and even into the second one of any story I'm writing doesn't include a lot of detail about things. I don't like to tell the reader, for instance, what color the skin of my main character is. To me, it doesn't matter. You can infer whatever you like by the name of the person or how someone else might react to them, but my stories tend not to be about any one person's race. Yes, I've used multiple races in my science fiction, one has to. The delineation I like to use is the one where people are people whether they're carbon based bipeds or something else.
As for the worlds that surround the characters in my stories, I will only give the reader enough information to fill in the blanks. I can't stand reading books that are all about the minutiae of the story. It tends to slow me down and minimize my enjoyment of the story. So I don't write that way.
But after viewing this exhibit, I realized where I can add details that enrich the reader's understanding of the world I'm creating without bogging down in endless descriptive paragraphs that people like me tend to skip.
People have lives, they do things. Right? That's where little details can sink in and reveal something about character.
Like when they visit an exhibit at the museum.