Friday, July 2, 2010

Using Details to the Max

You know how you’re supposed to make every scene count? The same goes for details. As I work on my current novel, I’m learning more about how details fit together to strengthen a story.

1. Details help create mental representations. This has to be one of the most common ways to use details. Writers appeal to the senses to help to bring a scene, a character, or a setting alive for the reader. The musty smell of the dungeon, a jittery leg tapping against a desk, the scratchiness of long grass against skin. (Playing with these details to get them right is so much fun, isn’t it?)

2. Details help advance the plot. When I create characters I often give them a specific skill to make them interesting. It’s so much better when that interesting ability allows them to step up and take a stronger role later in the story. With one character, I had an “aha moment” when I realized his interesting hobby allowed him to solve a tricky problem. It wasn’t intentional on my part, but since I had included that detail I used it to shape a more exciting story.

3. Details create emotional connections. We all know how effective this is from dramatic shots in movies (or reality television). The single tear running down a cheek, a perfectly-timed punch, even just a quiet moment of staring into space. Sometimes a small detail is all you need to spark a reaction or make a connection with a reader.

Using details effectively doesn’t take brilliant planning. Sometimes all you need is to use what you’ve already got. How are you using details? Tell us about how one detail makes your latest piece of writing more effective.

-- Andrea


  1. Interesting post!

    My current project is about a young white belt so I've been trying to include details about color. It's subtle but important, I think. For instance, the MC is always changing her nail polish. (A metaphor for the conflict/flip-flopping going on in her life.)

  2. Most of my middle school settings involve a lot of plastic. Formica tables, plastic chairs, cheap floor tiles, cruddy desks. I love putting cheap materials in my fictional middle schools. That's how I felt at that age: not trusted with real things and coping with hand-me-downs.

  3. Wow - I love how you've put so much thought into your details. It really creates a deeper layer for your stories.


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