I’m in a three part women’s choir at school, though we do split into more parts occasionally. Out of the three parts (1st Soprano, 2nd Soprano, and Alto), I was assigned to be a 2nd Soprano, which means that I sing the note right in the middle of everyone else.
Sure, everyone says 2nd Sopranos are essential, but I was kind of annoyed that I didn’t get to be a 1st. I mean, the melody–usually sung by the 1st Sopranos–is the most important thing in a piece. Plus, singing 2nd Soprano is a lot harder than the other parts, since the outside parts are easier to hear.
But look at this. Here is an example of a basic melody with three part harmony.
Here’s what it would look like if the 2nd Sopranos suddenly disappeared.
Since WordPress doesn’t allow me to upload recordings, I know you can’t actually hear it, but you can at least see the empty space that it leaves. And if you listened to both, you could hear that empty space in the second example. It does sound kind of interesting, but it just doesn’t have the full, rich tone the first example does.
You know what? 1st Sopranos really are the most important. Without the melody, all you have are a bunch of random notes strung together…that, or you have a totally different melody than you wanted in the first place. The Altos are important too, covering the bottom of the chord. And the 2nds? Well, they’re pretty important too.
You all know the three most important pieces of a novel: plot, characters, and setting. So, I’ll assign plot to the 1st Soprano part, because that seems to be the most important, and characters can go to the Altos. That leaves the 2nd Sopranos with setting, but I think I’m going to change it a little bit and have it be details instead.
Details are just as essential as 2nd Sopranos are–that is to say, not essential to have a choral song, but essential to have a good one. Without any details, your story happens in a white room with faceless characters and a plot that really doesn’t make sense. Without enough details, your story happens in a vaguely beige colored room with a decent plot and some randomly-featured characters.
With the right amount of details, your setting becomes vibrant, your plot developed, and your characters realistic as well as relatable. In short, your story becomes alive.
Let’s look at some examples.
He stood there, gun in hand, pointing toward Vane, and the realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
“No.” My heart felt cold. “You…you betrayed us.”
He glanced over at me, toying with the gun, a smile creeping onto his face. “Of course I did.”
Yep, that looks pretty much like my regular writing. It’s not necessarily “bad”, but it could definitely be better.
The flickering lights played along his face, shadowing each indent darker and colder, drawing my eyes to that ragged scar on his cheek before they fell to the gun in his hand. A pistol, small and black, pointed toward Vane’s exposed back. His finger twitched toward the trigger.
My heart was numb–numb and heavy, holding me where I stood. “No.” My voice came out no more than a whisper, a weak struggling against the tiny, powerful bullet he could release from its cylindrical prison at any moment. “You…you betrayed us.”
He barely looked at me, his eyes flicking over my face before returning to Vane. As he twisted the pistol between his fingers, a deadly smile crept up his face. “Of course I did.”
It’s not perfect, of course, but obviously much better. It’s the same scene, the same melody, but it now has details added in. They give the reader a sense of what’s going on, who the characters are, and an engagement with both the characters and the plot that they wouldn’t have had before.
Even though I don’t describe exactly where they are, adding the details I did allows the reader a chance to imagine the setting that they didn’t have before. The details give the mood, and from the mood grows the reader’s imagination.
Writing with details is hard. Especially for someone like me, who doesn’t write with enough details very often. To write like I did in the second paragraph, I had to mentally focus on writing the details the whole time. It took a lot more time and a lot more effort to write that way.
But, honestly, it was a lot more fun to write that way, and I think it is a lot more fun to read too. The details are what bring something to life, instead of leaving it empty and boring.
Yes, details are essential. And so are 2nd Sopranos.