Writing a well detailed scene can be tricky. Giving readers enough to visualize what’s going on, but not so much that they lose track of what’s happening, is a challenge. Details, of course, shouldn’t exist for their own sake. Like anything in a story, they have to serve a purpose. They have to move the story along, they have to develop the setting, and, ideally, they tell the reader something about the characters. Micheal Stackpole manages to pull this off quite well in Star Wars: X-Wing, Rogue Squadron. The following passages appear in chapter 17:
“Wedge tipped his chair back against the wall. He glanced at the two Alderaanians who shared his table with him. ‘They did a good job out there today.’”
“Afyon shook his head…‘What’s a Strike cruiser to a crew that turned two Death Stars into black holes?’
The Corellian [Wedge] brought his chair down onto all four legs. ‘The New Republic might promote me and this squadron as immortal and immune to danger, but I know better than that.’”
“Tycho nodded solemnly…‘I’m afraid this group does not inspire that much philosophy…’
Wedge glanced at his pilots, then tipped his chair back up against the wall”
These three passages manage to do a lot with a very little. First, it moves the story along. Even though the focus is a conversation, using Wedge and his chair keeps the pacing up. It gives the scene action, without it being melodramatic. An author with less restraint might be tempted to have a character raise their voice, or pound a fist on the table once the scene becomes serious. Stackpole, however, uses the action of Wedge putting all four chair legs on the floor as punctuation for what Wedge is about to say next. He grounds himself before he gives his grounding statement. Once the main action of the conversation is over, Wedge returns to his former position of leaning his chair back, and the action naturally falls off.
Second, it develops the setting. In the first passage, Wedge is relaxed, he’s unwinding and complimenting his pilots. The tone of the conversation is light, and everyone is at ease. In the second passage, when the conversation gets heavier, Wedge responds by putting “four on the floor” and giving the subject the gravity it deserves. Only when the conversation lightens up a bit does Wedge return to his previous casual posture. The mood of the place is developed partially through the dialogue, and partially through the use of details like Wedge’s posture during various parts of the conversation.
Thirdly, it tells us a few things about the character of Wedge. Wedge is a pilot, and a Corellian. He may be a part of the Rebellion, but he’s by no means a strict military commander. The above passages tell us that he is a casual person. He leans his chair back against the wall, something neither of his Alderannian companions do, and he takes it easy. Once the conversation turns more serious, Wedge puts his full focus on it, his casual attitude disappears and he pays full attention. This gives the reader a sense of who Wedge is as a person. Someone who may not be the most military, but also someone who takes his work seriously.
These details are only a small part of writing, but well crafted details can give a scene action, can establish important information about the setting, and can say something about the characters. Stackpole uses Wedge’s chair to give what might have been an unremarkable conversation some appropriate action and tell the audience a thing or two about Wedge and his companions.