Writing is hard work, a never ending process of learning and applying. I’ve been writing for fourteen years and am still learning how to improve my skills. Today I’d like to talk a little about details in a story.
A detail is a word/phrase/image that enables a reader to “see.” Instead of telling your readers that Sam “looked sad,” describe the shape of his mouth or the lifeless slats of his hair. Avoid details that call to mind anybody and use the specific ones that call to mind your character because these are details that stay with your readers through the book.
Sometimes it only takes one or two details to bring your character to life for a reader. These are the telling details that stretch beyond observation to give readers a larger, richer sense of character or place.
When I was asked to do revisions for my first book, All You Need Is Love, my original opening line was: “Stepping inside the local veterinarian’s office, Ginger bellowed.”
A specific directive from my editor was: “Don’t just tell me I’m in a veterinarian’s office, show me, make me hear it, see it, feel it.”
Here’s what I added:
Stepping inside the local veterinarian’s office in Promise, Massachusetts was like stepping into a half-price sale at Macy’s the day before a holiday. A Doberman barked repeatedly while a Pomeranian, eyes wide, ran in circles piddling on herself and the floor, frantic to escape the din and chaos.
Ginger bellowed, along with a German shepherd across the room that had jumped into a chair with the woman trying desperately to clean the Pomeranian’s urine from her heels. The shepherd, easily one hundred pounds, bounded back onto the floor, sniffed once at the yipping Pomeranian, then raised his leg and doused the little dog.
My editor was delighted with the details and replied that she felt as though she was in the veterinarian’s office, heard the chaos and, being a pet owner, could smell the urine. No, not the best memory, but vivid just the same : )
The right details at the right times allow your readers admission into your character’s inner peculiarities, fears, and compulsions. It’s one thing to explain the veterinarian’s office was utter chaos, but when I added the details that helped the reader experience the scene, I enriched my story.