My wonderful agent, Karen Grencik, taught me a valuable lesson. Well, she's taught me many, but for the sake of this post, we'll focus on fleas.
Fleas, you ask? Yes, fleas.
Have you ever heard the term "Add more fleas?" Until I signed with Karen, I had never heard this term. After all, fleas are scratchy, annoying little pests who burrow themselves into our pets' fur and won't let go. How in the world can this apply to writing?
The unofficial definition: "Add more fleas" means to sprinkle in details that ground the reader in the scene.
Fleas aren't dumped in one clump. Fleas do not show up alone. Fleas demand attention.
My wise agent had noticed several places in my manuscript that needed more details. That's a tough balance, right? We don't want to bore readers with too much, but we need vivid, well-placed details to make them feel there.
When I came to an "add more fleas" section, I followed some basic rules. Here are three things we can try:
1. Play a movie in s-l-o-w motion
Lean your head back, close your eyes, and visualize the scene in slow motion. Pretend it's a movie playing out on the big screen. Pay attention to everything. What does your character see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Touch?
Which brings me to the next point...
2. Choose sensory details wisely
We need to pick and choose details that matter. And like fleas, these should be sprinkled in, and not clumped in one space.
Sensory details set the mood and/or add tension--A breeze whispering through a canyon. A dripping faucet in a rusty sink. A fly buzzing at the screen door. The scent of motor oil on hot asphalt. The lemony scent of furniture polish. The clip clop of horses hooves.
Sensory details also let us know what type of character we're dealing with--Fuzz balls on an over-washed sweater. Greasy hair. Manolo Blahnik pumps. Manicured nails. The scent of clean laundry.
3. Manuscript Vacay
When we let our manuscripts rest, we come back to them with fresh eyes. If we were too heavy-handed with sensory details, we can delete. If we're confused about scene details, we can add or replace some.
When we return to the scene, are we grounded in the place and time? If not, we should add more fleas. A couple up front, and the rest can be sprinkled throughout.
If an agent or editor asks you to "add more fleas," fear not. We aren't expected to chase our dogs or cats with double-stick tape. We just need to add vivid sensory details, which will ground our readers in the scene.
Have you ever heard this term before? Do you tend to over write or under write sensory details? If you have a tip you'd like to share, please do!