Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Delight is in the Details

For some time, I’ve wanted to find out why there’s so much hub-bub about the British television series, Downton Abbey. Its fans are downright obsessive about it.

So, the flu and I decided to spend Saturday watching … 11 STRAIGHT EPISODES. Yeah, obsessive is the right word. The multiple story lines and interesting characters were engrossing. As a writer, I was most fascinated by the way the smallest details told the most powerful story.

For example, the staff ironed the newspapers each morning before his Lordship and family read them. A subtle detail like this said so much about the expectations of the upper class in 1910s and 1920s Britain. The show’s writer didn’t have to hit the audience over the head with an explanation of the class distinctions of the time. The day-to-day workings of a household said it all: female servants couldn’t serve in the dining room and never answered the front door; bad news was often kept from the ladies of the house because of their delicate natures; a hierarchy existed among the staff as well; some servants felt genuine loyalty and sometimes love for their employers, as if they were family.
I recently finished a novel called The Language of Flowers. In it, a very minor character often dyed her hair wild colors like hot pink. But the reader found this out by the stains on her pillowcase.
Other viewers and readers may not notice precise details as I do. After all, it's often the sum of the details that sets the mood of a television show, movie or book.
Still, I delight in writers who say so much with so few words.
Perhaps the smallest details of our own lives tell the biggest story as well.

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