When the story is truly big, it’s the details that matter. I’ve had to remember this in the second, and now third, book of the Gaiaverse series. The second book starts right after the end of the world as we knew it. What happens next only feels real if there are the details that support the story, the setting, the characters.
Sometimes I get bogged down in details and then have to go back and cut out half of what I’ve written. Other times I find that I’m skimming over them, telling the major story plot line without the details. If I am going to write about how my characters survived, I need to note their motivation, their actions but also how they looked, where they were, what was the mood, and basically ground them in the reality I’ve created for them. This is, I think, the difference between suspending disbelief and not–making the story feel real.
I’ve always thought Stephen King does this very well. He gives the reader a setting and characters that seem quite real. Then as the story goes on, the reader finds they are in a completely bizarre situation–one that shouldn’t be believed and yet is, because King has set us up with a foundation full of real details to make it all seem quite plausible.
Dean Koontz is another writer who takes ordinary people and thrusts them into extraordinary situations, yet makes it utter believable.
I think as writers we want our readers to come into the story, to leave their lives behind for a while and live in the worlds we have created. This only happens if we provide the foundation of details for the reader to hold onto as they sink into an alternate reality.