Sunday, 17 March 2013

It is all about the details

Three generations - happy days
This photo bears no relation to this post other than it is a follow on from last week's one. I had used the clip from Notting Hill because it reminded me of a time when my mother was very happy. This is actually a photo from that period - notice a theme? She still has a glass of champagne in her hand, things never change!

This post is actually all about the details. Those little words that can lift your writing off the page and make it come to life in the reader's mind. It is something that I often find my students overlook. They don't see it as important. However, the details can give so many clues to what a character is like or what is going to happen in a story. They can be teasers.

What am I talking about? Well look at these two sentences and think about what they say are actually saying:

'She took a sip of a delicious white wine.'

Perfectly good sentence, that says exactly what is going on. However, compare that with this:

'She took a sip of a cool, crisp Chablis.'

Immediately you can get some idea of the weather - why would she want a cool, crisp drink unless it was hot? Could this be taking place in the summer? What sort of person drinks Chablis?

Think about cars.

'He was driving a bright red Ferrari' - quite cliched but it says a lot in comparison with 'He was driving a rusty, old mini.'

But it needn't be about objects that belong to people. Think about settings. If you say the wood was full of bluebells it immediately tells the reader what time of year it is.

There is a fine balance though between info dumping and not giving any information at all. Look at it as giving the reader enough clues for them to create an image but still have to work at it a bit. They can all add to the sense of tension in a story too.

I am currently reading Lauren St John's The One Dollar Horse and she is very good at this. There is this constant sense of underlying tension of potential disaster as she carefully slips in the odd critical detail that gets the reader worrying. I am almost reluctant to keep reading at the moment because I am terrified something dreadful is going to happen to the wonderful Storm Warning and I won't be able to cope. However, I will keep reading as I have faith that the author will make it end happily despite all these hints...doesn't it? If these hints and details weren't in the book though it would lose so much. It would be such a flat story. Next time you pick up a book look out for them. See what sort of a difference they make to you as a reader then bring this to your own writing.

And how about a bit of James Mraz and James Morrison playing 'Details in the Fabric.' Just seemed appropriate


  1. Hi Ness:)
    Interesting - it's all about focus isn't it? You don't see the details - a ripped pocket, the label on a bottle of wine - when the picture is out of focus and the details in a story make the picture brighter sharper more alive, less of a fog.

  2. I love the idea of it being less of a fog, thank you