The Exquisite Whole

I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” recently. I hadn’t seen it in many years because it’s really not high on my list of favorites (not a fan of the operatic style), but it was part of our season ticket package so I was looking forward to revisiting it. Frankly, I look forward to every show because there’s always something spectacular happening on stage.

And Phantom was no exception. Gorgeous stagecraft. Goosebump inducing orchestration. Overwhelming special effects. And costumes. Oh, the costumes.

The setting for Phantom is the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s so you have the regular period costumes as well as the costumes for the operas-within-the-opera. What made my theatre experience more interesting was the display of costumes from the show they had set up in the lobby.

As I walked toward the display I saw one of the Phantom’s capes, and three beautiful dresses.

cape 1 beaded 1 multi 1 black dress 1

But then I looked closer.

cape 2    multi 2  black dress 2beaded 2

And then closer still.

beaded 3  multi 3  black dress 3  black dress 4

By focusing closer on each garment, I was able to see details hidden to me before, each one serving a purpose, each one servicing the whole of the garment as well as the entire production. Care was taken on those sequins, each one catching different lights and angles on stage. They certainly could have used fewer — less detail, less care — and perhaps nobody would have been the wiser. But by layering detail upon detail, texture upon texture, all the pieces added up to an exquisite whole.

It’s the same thing I try to do with my writing. I start with my barebones plot, my plain cotton garment, if you will.

Then I stitch on a few ruffles of setting, some beaded metaphors, a sprinkle of telling details so each character and paragraph sparkles. I trim off excess story fabric, nipping and tucking until nothing droops or drags. I snip loose threads or weave them in better.

I want readers to see my books like I saw those costumes in the theatre lobby. Something captivating that when examined, reveals layers and layers of texture adding up to an exquisite whole.

As a reader, do you notice the layers of texture? As a writer who reads, can you overlook the layers and lose yourself in the exquisite whole?


Author: Becky Clark

I write mysteries with humor and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair. My new book FICTION CAN BE MURDER, the first in the Mystery Writer's series, was out April 2018.

11 thoughts on “The Exquisite Whole”

  1. Fabulous photos! What a great analogy. I think, as the costumes show, that in a well made costume (or book) it takes a very careful inspection to see the layers and the details. What the reader sees is the whole and doesn’t see the indefinable nuances of texture that draw her in.


  2. Wonderful metaphor! And Phantom is one of my favorites. Such beautiful costumes; so many details. Who would’ve thought so many details go into them??

    As a writer, I look for those details when I take apart successful novels to study. It’s a very revealing exercise!


  3. Thanks, ladies. The reason I asked if writers could overlook the construction of a book and get lost in the story is because a friend of mine in college was a film student and he couldn’t watch a movie without deconstructing it. I felt sorry for him. I guess for me, if it’s a well-written novel, I absolutely get lost in it and afterward I want to go back and see how they constructed it. If I notice their seams are uneven, their hem droops, and their sequins are loose, then I find it hard to concentrate on their story.


  4. True, Becky. Sadly, it’s becoming more and more rare that I get lost in a book anymore, because I’m always looking for the details of its construction. It has to be really exceptional for me to look past all that.


  5. The loose sequins is a real thing to me, actually. My daughter lives in Portland and we go to this drag show periodically when I visit. It’s lots of fun and the main attraction is Darcelle. But the last time we were there, I noticed all of the costumes for some reason. Maybe we sat up closer? Regardless, all the sequins were loose and I couldn’t concentrate on the show. I was worried about those sequins!


  6. What a terrific post! Well done!

    I find I’m eager to lose myself in a story. It takes some planning, but if I can toss my internal editor (sometimes known as my lizard brain) into the closet, I can enjoy the book. Unless of course, sequins fall to the floor. Then all bets are off.


  7. I just began reading WIRED FOR STORY: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron, and thought of some of the comments on Becky’s fabulous post.

    Here’s what I found relevant in the introduction: “Evolution dictates that the first job of any good story is to completely anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a compelling illusion of reality…. When a story enthralls us, we are inside of it, feeling what the protagonist feels, experiencing it as if it were indeed happening to us, and the last thing we’re focusing on is the mechanics of the thing.”


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