…..texture. I think it’s always been a dominant feature of my writing and more importantly, what I have always looked for and responded to as a reader. I just didn’t really have a word for it before.
Boiled down texture is detail. I used to refer to it as such, but I’m liking the new word. It speaks to something that is woven into the very fabric of your text. Not a separate element, like description but something that works through every element. Texture arises directly as a result of its base fabric. You don’t get bobbles in silk and slubs in wool… And in order to find the texture it will force you to immerse yourself in the situation, live it and in doing so reveal problems you might never have otherwise seen.
It will prevent your hero from becoming a Mary Sue, or John Boy, whatever the male equivalent is (I heard it was Wesley Crusher, but The Big Bang Theory might have ruined that..) texture cannot be perfect. It’s not inherently imperfect either; it’s too small for one, it has no shape of its own, designed only to give definition to what you have set up. Think of it like thorns on a rose or grit on the road; the subtle little touches that give your story traction and hold your reader close.
Some texture can do its job so well, that it sticks in people’s minds, they copy it, others copy it, and it becomes so familiar it becomes cliché. The whole point of texture is that it pops out. Cliché is smooth, so well-worn in our psyche that our eyes glaze right over it.
However, anyone well-read can usually avoid it and indeed it can allow you to continue to use formulaic set ups and make them seem fresh. Play it right and you can reinvent the wheel. It can be tricky. You have to get inventive or get personal. As writers we often overlook, quite deliberately, the ordinary minutiae of our own lives. Ordinary is boring, ordinary is not what we are looking for when we read, ordinary is what we are looking to escape. And if you were talking about building scenes and plots round ordinary, I’d probably agree with you, but ordinary is where texture lives. Ordinary has the dual effect of being able to help make your situation and your protagonist relatable to your reader and yet at the same time every person’s experience is intimately unique.
And you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. A million details can begin with a single stitch. It is in essence a repetitive pattern and consistency is essential. Thus something which begins as a major plot point, can, if you carry through, become your texture.
Take the epic destiny of young Wizard Harry Potter. Epic destiny is perhaps the most overused trope in fantasy, yet it is one of the fundamental idiosyncrasies of his story. Harry’s destiny is no matter of fate but rather chance and for the first six books he is celebrated as a hero for an act he carried out in the crib. Rowling takes this large twist and weaves it through every book… it becomes part of the different plots – Gilderoy Lockhart, the prophecy of Sybil Trelawny…. part of his relationships – Ginny idolising him, Rita Skeeter zeroing in on him… part of the background – his scar, strangers constantly coming up to shake his hand, the choice of his wand and so on…
But to really appreciate how this is texture you must keep breaking it down – Ginny squealing and running out the room, the way Gilderoy uses him as a photo opportunity – to its nitty gritty essence and see how it pervades almost every page…