If you know me, you know that I don't plan out every little detail in my stories. Much of the minutia I let fly because--to be honest--that level of control isn't attractive to me, and (frankly) it's immaterial to the plot.
If I say, for instance, that Character A is a "redhead," provided I am consistent, it doesn't matter. The character could be blonde and it wouldn't matter to me in the least. That's what I'm talking about. In Memories of the Dead, there's minutia that don't matter at all, but that doesn't mean it's there to just up the word count or to take up space; no, it's there specifically because they need to be there... it's just that the specific content was unimportant.
It's a little like auto-detailing: the pin-striping on a sports car. It doesn't add to the car's muscle, it doesn't make it faster, or sleeker, or more anything. It's just a small line of paint, but without that the car just wouldn't be the same.
Get it? That's where I'm coming from.
In essence, when I come to that part of a story where I know I need to describe something in greater detail, but the detail isn't plot-important--I let my mind go. I find out really interesting things about characters that way. It's all in character, of course, and I believe that my brain pulled that information out of the cobwebs to fill in the missing info as needed, and nothing more. The BIG PLOT is important--not if I tell you Juliana's eye color...which I never do.
Some details that a reader might like to know I specifically leave out, like Juliana's eye and hair color. But why do I do that? Simple, I do it so that the reader's vivid imagination can fill in the blank for me.
Here's what I'm talking about: I've had several people read my book, and when they're more-or-less half way through it, I ask them something like "So, what do you think Juliana looks like?"
The answers are always different. Always. It's all based on how they read, their mindset, personality...everything about a particular reader makes them fill in the blanks themselves. Sure, I give some vague descriptive terms like "gossamer" or "radiant," but none of that really tells you "Hey, Juliana's hair color is..." Nope. I don't do that. That's for your brain to fill in. In a way, you're writing a better scene than I ever could. And you're doing it for me--for free. Why? Because your brain, just like mine, likes those little details, too.
The minutia that isn't important, but your brain wants it. Yes, I could have said something like "She's blonde" or "Her brunette tresses fell to her waist." But that would potentially break the spell that I hoped to weave. It's unimportant to the overall tale. And if anything I said breaks the spell you're under--if it takes you out of the story--then it's wrong and broken. It means I failed. So, I leave that up to you. Each of you knows who Juliana is the moment you read about her, and your "Juliana" is different than mine.
And that's perfectly fine! As a matter of fact, I encourage it!
Oh, I'm positive there's an editor out there screaming right now: UGH! WTF? Phil! YOU GOTTA HAVE THAT STUFF IN THERE!
No, you don't. How much detail did Stephanie Meyer put into descriptive terms for Edward and Bella? Edward is described in very general terms--like "perfect", and Bella...we'll she's just clumsy and hardly talked about at all. Why? So the reader can put in whomever they like--themselves, perhaps--and the story takes on new meaning and new life with each potential reader. Sneaky shenanigans from Stephanie? No, it's a simple trick, and one I took to heart: let the reader dream with you.
I'm cool with that.