Details, details, details

pencilDetails, details, details. I have trouble with details. I want to get to the action and the  dialogue. But details are important. Every detail should matter.

I have a quote in my files–I can’t trace the origin of it, but it helps:

By avoiding general description for specific descriptive detail, you give the reader an exact picture of the world you’ve created rather than allowing the reader to fill in the blanks. So instead of saying that a character ate at a “restaurant,” name the restaurant. This is important information. If a character goes into a McDonald’s or an Olive Garden, the choice about going to those particular places says something about the character. The descriptive detail adds to the characterization.

 Another example: music.

Once, a student wrote a story about a father/son car trip and wrote a sentence about the music on the radio, except the writer didn’t describe the music on the radio. Instead, the writer said, “Dad turned on the radio and we listened to music.”

My first question was, what kind of music were they listening to? Country? Rock? Polka? Or better yet, what specific artist was on at the time? Or even better yet, what specific song? And do the lyrics of the song tie in with any aspects of the story itself?

Every detail should matter.


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8 responses to “Details, details, details

  1. Details definitely do spice up an otherwise dull story. I have a tendency to neglect detail too, which is something I’ve been working hard to fix over the last little while. I think it may have something to do with a lack of attention to certain details in general; for example, typically I wouldn’t really notice what colour shirt a person is wearing, what kind of car they drive, the features of their faces, and so on. That made it really hard for me to write convincing descriptions of people in my stories, and that went for still objects as well. Now, I make sure to pay much more attention to the little details around me, so when I write, I’ll be able to replicate them very well in the picture drawn by my words.

    • Me too. You could have written that comment about me. My wife and I will meet someone and when we walk away, my wife will say, “Did you see the size of the ring he was wearing?” I didn’t even see the ring, much less its size. But to be fair, I study the psychology of the person etc. But I have to learn to shut my big mouth and start SEEING what is around me.
      Thanks for the note, Kim-Lee.

  2. I think it was Gardner who makes the point that the specific details in our writing is what allows the reader to suspend their disbelief and makes the story become true for them. Compare this to a great painting and the details that appear on the canvass.

  3. That is such an important insight. The idea of making the readers guess and fill in the blanks will make them tire reading quickly. Details do matter!

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