Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[process] On greebles and telling details

James Gurney talks about greebles on his blog. He defines greebles as "small details used to break up a large form, usually to give a sense of scale or to make an invented object more believable."

We have greebles in fiction, too. These are superficially similar to "telling details", but in fact serve almost an inverse function.

A telling detail is a small but very significant element that unpacks fractally into information and assumptions about a character, setting and/or plot. For example, in William Gibson's Neuromancer the reader realizes that Molly's mirrorshades are surgically implanted, and begins to sense the manifold implications of a technology and a culture where that's a reasonable choice.

Greebles are the sorts of things that make a piece of fiction crunchy, textured and interesting, serving as a sort of matte painting behind the foreground action. Vide Gibson, the nearly obsessive use of consumer branding, both realworld and fictional, in Neuromancer. They lend dimensionality to a text, provide incidental verisimilitude, and can both engage and distance us depending on auctorial choice and reader experience, but they aren't directly engaged in advancing the story.

I keep learning about writing fiction from reading art blogs, but I think Gurney Journey is my favorite.

And as always in these matters, your mileage may vary.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: process, writing
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