Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Linda S Gunther

I think about the fabric of my story. What does it feel like in terms of texture? How does it sound when I read it aloud? I know that what makes a story sing, whether memoir or fiction is buried in the details. When I was new at developing a storyline, often a writing coach would say “Write down all the details. I mean, all the details about the setting, the room, the table, the kitchen, the colors, the feel of the table cloth. 

Thank goodness for writing coaches. I’ve learned to use the five senses – smell, sight, taste, touch, sound! Get the details down on the page.” What I’ve also learned over time is to ZOOM IN at the right moment and to ZOOM OUT at a right moment. As writer, I want to see the big picture as well as the micro picture, in the eyes of the character or narrator, but not include details at every moment in my story. Sometimes too much detail can BOG DOWN THE STORY. 

Thinking of a scene I’m writing as if I’m directing a movie is an effective method for me. It’s the actor in me helping me write well. That means focusing on what the character sees, touches, hears, smells when they approach the restaurant, when they walk through the front entrance, when they sit down at the table, when they taste their appetizer, when they sip the wine, when they hear their lover break up with them over dessert. Of course, the details in the scene can add to the tension. But how much detail and description should I include in that part of my story, that scene in the restaurant?

Here’s a quote from author and playwright Henry Miller that I think links to this topic.

“The moment one gives attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

For me, Miller is emphasizing the opportunity for a writer to zoom in on an object, a thing, because it opens the reader to that close up and personal experience. But I also get the gist from Miller that it’s important for a writer to CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE when to zoom in, and it’s not going to be all the time. I wish Henry Miller was still alive and I could get on a Zoom call (sorry for the pun) and ask him questions about his quote.

I’ve learned to WEAVE IN the details vs. giving it all as a “dump” at the beginning of a scene. For example, when I walk into a room, I don’t notice every single detail in that room all at once, in the first minute, or even in the first few minutes. No, I experience it one piece at a time, first seeing the big picture, the tableau and then noticing the smaller, more subtle details.

Also, I’m aware that when I’m scared or when a moment in my life is very intense, that’s when I zero in on the tiny little things like a crack in the sidewalk, a chip on the kitchen sink, a train of ants feasting on some ice cream dropped on the pavement, those seemingly extraneous details. And the same goes for my characters. They will notice teensy details when the tension in their life is increased, sometimes at a weird moment in time.

I may opt to draft my scene with every detail possible about the things and the people, and then when I go through my edit phase, I can shave it, eliminate the unnecessary details or think about how I can sprinkle in the details vs. clumping them into two or three cumbersome sentences. As I’ve further developed my writing skills, I think I am now much more careful to include the details when they serve to heighten the scene but not go OVERBOARD.  
So, when you re-read the scene you’ve drafted and review the array of details you’ve included, also notice HOW you unfolded those details. I think it pays to ask yourself whether you might need MORE or LESS detail to have the reader feel like they are actually sitting right there with the character experiencing that precise moment in time. Bravo Henry Miller for pointing this out!

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES blog post will focus on FREE WRITE and WRITING PROMPTS.


The blog post Is originally published on Linda Gunther’s website here.

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