As promised, here is Part 2 of our powwow on adding detail to your descriptions. In Part 1, we discussed the importance of using detailed sensory images, motion verbs, and concrete nouns to evoke a reader’s emotions.
One Detail at a Time
Think of your story as a blank slate to which you are adding details one at a time. It’s similar to the way a police sketch artist sits down with a crime victim and together they try to render the face of the attacker. The artist takes out pad and paper (or computer, nowadays!) and the subject describes the shape of the villain’s face and the size, shape, and color of his eyes. Next, she gives details about the size and shape of the rogue’s nose, mouth, eyebrows, and ears, and whether he had any facial hair or scars or identifying marks on his skin. Finally, the victim describes the criminal’s hair color, length, and style. At each step during the process, the artist adds another layer to his drawing until the likeness appears just as the crime victim remembers her attacker.
Alec is the most patriotic man you’d ever want to meet.
Each Memorial Day, Marco hangs three American flags from his front porch, one for each of his schoolmates who died in Iraq; sings with his church group a medley of The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and America at the local VA hospital; and serves a ham and eggs dinner at a soup kitchen.
When you’re reading a story and the author wants you to believe a character is patriotic, do you simply take the author at his or her word? Or do you want proof—actions that show the character actually possesses the quality?
In All the Light You Cannot See, Anthony Doerr writes, “Don’t you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don’t you ever want proof?”
Most of us want proof. Humans are wired to respond emotionally to concrete images, not abstract ideas. We like our images to move. And the more details we add to those concrete action images, the more proof we offer, the more solid those images become in our minds.
Why do people love soap operas and reality shows? We want the gossip, the dirt—the details. When my friend goes on a date, she calls me, not just to say, “It was nice.” She wants to tell me what her date said and how he said it or if he talked too much and whether he paid for dinner and if he kissed her and…all the details. After a football game, even though my husband just watched every play of the game, he watches the post-game show that will rehash all the details. Continue reading All (About) the Juicy Details
Before you read one more word, please click on this link and read this essay, an excerpt from the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Do it now. I’ll wait. I’ll even wait while you order the book. The rest is as fabulous as the excerpt. Clicking on the title or picture of the book above will whisk you to Amazon via my affiliate link. Just don’t get shopping and forget to return!
Now that you have Paloma’s marvelous take on grammar as “a way to attain beauty,” I’d like to add my own comments to the mix. I could barely sit still when I first read this essay, as I am a grammar maven. I’ve always thought that was a strange-sounding word, maven. It means “expert or connoisseur.” I’m by no means an expert, but I’m certainly a connoisseur.
Though perhaps not as classically beautiful as Fibonacci’s golden spiral in a rose or nautilus, each of grammar’s innate structures is attractive in its own way. Below are a few of my faves…
What do you think of interjections? You know, words like Ha! Yeah! Aw… Huh? In formal writing, these are scorned as third step-cousins, twice removed. But in spoken conversation, they are the grease that lubricates the wheels of language. Wow! Can you imagine getting through a day without them? Nope. Now that much of our communication involves email and texting, vehicles that simulate spoken language patterns, we employ interjections there, too.
At the beginning of each semester, a fair number of my student writers relied on “The Sloppy Seven” sentence starters. In any given paragraph, most of their sentences began with The, I, He, She, They, We, As, or It. Each student had his or her favorites. Dave (name changed) started three out of five sentences in one essay with The. Ellie (name changed) started four out of six with I. So the students could see, at a glance, how frequently they used them, I highlighted the words they repeated.
For example: My niece is passionate about horses. She loves to brush them and braid their manes and tails. She doesn’t even complain about mucking out the stalls. She takes lessons twice a week and goes to competitions. My sister pays the bills, so she hopes my niece outgrows this hobby. I bet someday she’ll be buying a horse.
How often do you listen to other writers speak? I don’t mean reading what they’ve written, but listening to them talk out loud—hearing the words drip from their lips. When authors share prepared remarks or better, speak off the cuff, you get a whole different insight into their writing—and your own.
I was hunting interesting websites to share with my Creative Power Writing Facebook friends last night, and as things happen, one idea snowballed into another. Weird Al Yankovic’s Word Crimes video popped up and I bookmarked it as a future post; then I thought, Hey, maybe I should look for more videos!
So I typed “writing” into the box on YouTube. The usual writing instruction and tips videos popped up, but also videos of authors giving speeches and doing interviews and 3-5-minute inspirational clips. A half-hour video of Stephen King answering audience questions at The University of Massachusetts Lowell revealed how King balances story and poetic language, how he develops characters, and why he loves kids as protagonists. He may be scary, but King is a funny guy, too! At one point, he started gushing a little too much about kids and had to stop himself: “I’m starting to sound like Michael Jackson, so I’d better shut up.”
I’m taking the holiday weekend off and not writing a blog post today. Instead, I’d like to point you to a great resource.Poets & Writers online is packed full of information for creative writers. The page I’m referring you to, Tools for Writers, links you to the following:
Literary Journals and Magazines
Conferences and Residencies
Writing Prompts and Exercises
Book Review Outlets
Poets & Writers Guides (handbooks)
Top Topics for Writers (articles)
Grants & Awards
Jobs for Writers
Oh, and you can also access the magazine… 🙂
Is this a treasure trove, or what?
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I hope you’ve also noticed–and clicked!–the link to my new Creative Power Writing Facebook page in the left-hand column. Through it, I’ll be regularly connecting you with great sites like Poets & Writers, inspirational quotations, writing prompts, invaluable tips and articles, contests, best writing books, and more!
See you next week. In the meantime, get something published.