Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wise Agent Advice: More Fleas, Please


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!

50 comments:

  1. hadn't heard that term before, but it makes sense. In fact, when I was first reading your post and came across this part "who burrow themselves into our pets' fur and won't let go." I thought the definition was going to be to add little bits that burrow into the reader's skin and won't let go, which can still apply with the details...

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    1. I thought the exact same thing about "burrowing." The best details stick with us long after we've read them!

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  2. Yes, I've heard the phrase before...I'll let you guess from whom. But thanks for breaking it down for me, Julie. You have no idea how much I needed this information. :)

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    1. Linda, I have to remind myself of this all the time!

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  3. Well, of course I think Karen is wonderful and full of great advice. I may be *slightly* biased; And these are really good tips, Julie. Details are things that I constantly play with: adding, subtracting, adding again. But eventually, I get it just right. Like baby bear's porridge:)

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  4. I've never heard this term before, but it's a wonderful method to remind us how to include & scatter all those lovely details. Thanks for sharing your agents sage advice!

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    1. Nancy, you bet! Ever since she mentioned it, I now notice it in other books.

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  5. I haven't heard it described this way before, but it makes a lot of sense and is memorable!

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    1. Memorable! That's exactly the way I see it. It's something visual that's easy to remember.

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  6. I haven't heard of that term before! It's funny. I like it! I better go check out my wip and see if it needs more fleas... :)

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    1. Laura, now when I'm revising I'm thinking of "more fleas, please" areas!

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  7. I have never heard that term, but love it now! Great advice from your agent - thanks for sharing.

    I've always thought of it as putting yourself "in the bubble" to find the details to make you feel that you are there.

    Great post.

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    1. Ooooh, love the bubble idea! That's another one I'll remember. Thanks!

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  8. "add more fleas" Love it. I hadn't heard it before either.

    I agree about choosing details carefully...to add mood or say something about the character. Scene description should pull double duty or even triple duty when you can get it to.

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    1. Excellent point about double or triple duty. That's another thing I need to remember! *writes that down*

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  9. Great reminder about those details that enliven a story! Plus it's a fun way to remember. I loved your doggie image with the fleas perched on his head. Appreciated the laugh.

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    1. Thanks! I loved the little doggie too. And for some reason, "fleas" really resonated with me. Weird.

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  10. I've never heard this before, but great post.

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    1. Thanks, Beth! Nice to know I wasn't the only one who hadn't heard it yet :/

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  11. I hadn't heard of that term before, but it's so true! Great post! :)

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    1. Thanks, Carrie! It was new to me, too :)

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  12. The term was new to me when you first mentioned it. I think it says it all. I have a tendency to over flea.

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    1. LOL! A new verb! Leslie, you "flea" perfectly. Your design background shines through in your writing.

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    2. Julie, have I mentioned lately that you are sparkly and pretty?

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    3. LOL...More fleas! More fleas!

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  13. I love this. And now I have a new respect for fleas! Excellent advice here. Thank you!

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    1. You bet, Karlene. Now fleas have a purpose :)

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  14. That's a new term for me! But I love it :)

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  15. Love that and that picture is cool. Super advice as usual!

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    1. Thanks, Catherine! Pretty cute, doggie...I agree. Now I see fleas in a totally different light :)

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  16. Fantastic post, Julie. Before now I have never (Never) heard or read the term "fleas" in terms of writing. Interesting.

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    1. I know, right? I hadn't either. But now it's a strong visual that really helps me out :)

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  17. No, I had never heard this before. Great stuff. About the manuscript vacay, I am less enthusiastic. Know what happens to me? I come back to it, dream up some cool new feature...only to find that I had already thought of that and it shows up a paragraph later. Happens every time! *laughs*
    Much good stuff here, my friend. Thanks for the fleas... Wait! That came out wrong.

    -Jimmy

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    1. OMG, Jimmy, I do the exact same thing! Add something cool only to realize I had already put that in further down. *sigh*

      But maybe that confirms it's awesome, right? If we thought of it twice? Let's tell ourselves that :D

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  18. A critique group partner once told me she wanted all five senses involved. But yes, the fleas need to be well placed and not over done. I love exercise #1. Gonna use that one tomorrow.

    But I hadn't heard that term before. Now I can sound more edumactedly when I speak with agents/editors!

    thanks

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  19. Dean! You wanna hear something funny? I just looked up "edumactedly." I thought you had taught me a fancy word. *hangs head in shame*

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  20. Great post!! I've never heard this term before. I try to add details--sometimes I put in a tad too much--but hopefully I meet the right balance.

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  21. I hadn't heard the term before, but I totally understand the concept - I have problems with 'clumping' myself :-)

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  22. I definitely under write sensory details. My crit partners and beta readers always tell me to add more in!

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  23. I've never heard this phrase before but I like the idea behind it. Great tips!

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  24. I'm definitely in the wordy-nerd group. However, I'm not sure if they are fleas or termites! ^_^ Great post, Julie.

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  25. I definitely under write sensory details. My crit partners and beta readers are always telling me to add in more details.

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  26. I've never heard it, but I love it! This is kind of brilliant.

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  27. I hadn't heard of it! But it makes a ton of sense, and I love your detail examples. :)

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  28. I've never heard that expression either but I know that in the writing I love the sensory and world details are so seamless and help with tension that I don't even notice them!

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  29. Thanks so much for all your comments, guys. At least I wasn't the only writer who hadn't heard of it :)

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  30. Great and timely reminder. I love giving characters something to do as they move around a scene, and sprinkling in fleas creates those opportunities. It's especially critical with fantasy--and that's where I struggle. The real-world scenes are much easier for me.


    Well, now I'm off to scratch my manuscript. Thanks for a great post and have a lovely holiday!

    Martina

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  31. This is so good, Julie. I'd never heard this term before. I think I'll use this when I'm critiquing from now on. It's tons more fun than "Add more sensory detail." :)

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