“Find what gave you the emotion. Then write it down, making it clear so the reader will see it, too, and have the same feeling that you had.”
Ernest makes it sound simple, but it’s not easy! Building telling details into our stories is so crucial — and so challenging — that I wanted to share some more advice from “A Writer’s Coach” by Jack Hart.
First, Jack describes our mission: “All detail should justify its existence by working toward your overall writing goals. Just what are you trying to accomplish, and how does each detail help you do that?….”
“Reaching readers, drawing them into a world you create on a page and making them experience it with both head and heart, requires that you show them exactly what you’re talking about. Before they can get to the same place you are, they need to see what you see, hear what you heard, and smell what you smelled. You must share your experience, not the conclusion you drew from it.”
Telling details can help us evoke atmosphere, scene, character, and theme. One of the ways to do this economically and effectively is to draw on information readers already have stored away.
Master stylist Gustave Flaubert believed that three details, artfully chosen and arranged, were enough to evoke a create a full scene. Most readers have been to a soda fountain,for example, and as Jack observes, “…you can create a full image of one in their heads by mentioning only the long counter with little round stools on metal pedestals, tulip glasses for chocolate sundaes, and pale-green Hamilton Beach milkshake mixers.”
As Jack also notes, “…details reveal character as well as place. The use of detail for characterization draws on a stored inventory of traits that are linked in our minds.” In short, we can use a few carefully chosen details to summon up a character as well as a scene for our readers — and to give them verbal “cues” about how we want them to see and think about a character.
Like squares in a handmade quilt, details add up to a pattern that helps tell our stories. Let’s find just the right ones as we all write on.