Wednesday, September 10, 2014

3 steps to incorporating effective details in your writing



DETAILS make your writing memorable.


There’s been a recent go-round on Facebook asking folks to list ten books that touched their lives. Just put them down, don’t think about it. For me the first book that came to mind was “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.” (by Margaret Sidney-originally published 1881 – republished numerous times and still available on Amazon)

I remember three details from that book even though it has been decades since I read it.
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  • 1) How to properly sweep the floor. (Use long, slow strokes so as not to raise a dust cloud.) 
  • 2) It is possible to knit if you are blind. (Polly had to learn when her eyes were compromised.) 
  • 3) Polly for some reason is a nickname for Mary.


Woven into those details is the feeling of family, personal growth and survival. The remembered details provide a gateway to the overall effect the book had on me. And I remember the book with affection.


As writers, we want people to remember our books. We work with words yet we need to paint pictures, offer photo-snaps and create worlds.

Details get the job done.

Whether it is solidifying an overall theme or painting a momentary stage, details used effectively can shift telling to showing and leave story moments planted in the reader’s brain and soul.

How do you get the result you want?  

When you are writing fast and hot, simply get the information, the action or the dialogue on the page anyway you can. When you re-write, tidy up and beef up as needed, using details.

Here’s a tip I learned years ago.


  • First, write your general thought. 
It was a dark and scary night.”

  • Second, describe what makes that statement true.

It was a dark and scary night. Clouds obscured the moon. The rain beat down like the tears of dead sailors and a banshee wind howled, obliterating any hope of comfort. Shadows deeper than the darkness lurked ready to suck a man’s soul from his bones.

  • Third: Go back and take out the first sentence.

It was a dark and scary night. “Clouds obscured the moon. The rain beat down like the tears of dead sailors and a banshee wind howled, obliterating any hope of comfort. Shadows deeper than the darkness lurked ready to suck a man’s soul from his bones.

Find a process that works for you.

This process frees me to write my first draft without worry. In the second draft, I get to play with words and add the details that give the reader what I want them to see, feel, hear, taste, smell or sense. (Yes – using the senses.) Additionally, I use metaphors, personification and similes as needed. But, for me, the basic three step process is the key to incorporating effective details.


 

Do you have a tip or process that works for you? Please share it if you do.


And check out Details and Description by M. J. King over on the Anxiety Ink site.

 


 



5 comments:

  1. Excellent tips, Mahrie! Taking out that first line also works for poetry.

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    1. I had not thought of it working for poetry, but that does make sense. I'm not a poet - my mother, Mary Grace Reid, was the poet in the family. I'll have to take a look in her book and view some of her poems with a fresh view.

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  2. I love the way you say - write it down - then describe - then take out the first sentence. What a novel way of doing it - and really makes sense. I related to Little House on the Prairie growing up. Great article.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Mary. Sometimes a simple process can make all the difference to the task. As my mother used to say: "It's simple once you've been shown how."

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