[dropcap][/dropcap]For Christmas, Santa brought me and my kids the Lord of the Rings box set…twelve hours of film plus an additional fourteen hours of DVD extras. I had no intention of watching it all—I mean really, I don’t watch twenty-six hours of television in a year let alone a week—but I couldn’t help myself. I was hooked! In fact, I think I liked the extras better than the movies.
Obviously I’ve read the trilogy and as an author of children’s fantasy fiction, I’ve long been inspired by Tolkien. But what caught my attention this time around was the way the production team approached the characters and the world.
When I was in grade school, my English teachers had me write character sketches and setting descriptions which I thought were completely useless exercises because I never understood why I was doing them. Little did I know then that they would become the main building blocks of my career. Even so, my characters exist in my head alone, not on film. I don’t need to provide every detail of every item of clothing because I couldn’t—and shouldn’t—spend time in my novels describing them. It would weigh down the stories and slow the pace.
But for the Lord of the Rings movies, the production team had no choice but to develop these kinds of details. Designers spent months studying each group of characters considering what their clothes, hair, weaponry and architecture would look like based on where and how they lived, their culture, their history and their beliefs. And the movies are richer for their effort. No one would ever confuse Gimli (dwarf) for Legolas (elf) because everything about the dwarf culture is harsh, angular and utilitarian whereas the elfen culture is refined, flowing and graceful–and of course there’s also a massive height difference.
So what’s the lesson here for authors? If we aren’t going to give the reader minute detail, why do we need to develop it?
Knowing these details enables us to bring our characters and settings to life. It becomes more like writing about people we’ve met and places we’ve visited which in turn, creates more enticing stories for our readers.
And that’s what this job is all about.