|For Authors: March 15, 2023 Issue [#11858]|
This week: Details Edited by: Annette
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|“Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.” ~ Paula Danziger|
Details are important. Writers aim to craft beautiful descriptions so that readers may form the images in their minds. On the flip side is word economy and precision. Even a detailed sentence can be written without wasting a single word as long as we put in the time to search for the exact word. Once we've got a sentence that includes all that we're trying to convey, it's good to ask whether there are any words that can be trimmed to achieve the transfer of information in the most concise way.
In fiction, every detail should be close to the plotline. Details are there to move the narrative forward. Details give us deeper glimpses into the psychology of the characters. Details have technical purposes. In short: details must be precise like medicine. Enough to get the desired results, but not so much that they end up hurting the story.
While writers will push each other toward economy of words, it is important to indulge ourselves in lists and excessive descriptions also. Pushing boundaries on the way to finding the right amount is good. Some details that appeared redundant might be useful or even needed after all. There is nothing wrong in starting out with lush descriptions of every street name, the trees, the pavement, sights, sounds, and smells. Each of these is part of your world and each of these can also help with character building.
Careful not to apply ornate details to scenes in the same way seasoning is added to food. Details have a narrative function. Imagine a character sits down on a warm rock. The information that the rock is warm tells us that it's sunny without saying that it's sunny. Warm was a detail that enriched the story in one word.
“A Descent into the Maelstrom” proves that Edgar Allan Poe is not afraid of details:
Never shall I forget the sensation of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.
Poe even reminds the reader of already described clouds. He wants us to see those clouds. They are important to him, so we should know that too.
How much detail is too much?
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|Replies to my last For Authors newsletter "Active vs. Passive Voice" that asked: Can an inanimate object perform an action?|
LightinMind wrote: Thanks, I found this great tool that identifies passive voice: https://datayze.com/passive-voice-detector
TJ-sort-of-an-Oddball wrote: Can an inanimate object perform an action? Yes, they can: The rug lies on the floor. The flag waves in the air.
Beholden wrote: Can an inanimate object perform an action? It can if I want it to!
Vivian wrote: Using active voice rather than passive makes fiction live in the reader's mind. The author shows the reader what happened rather than telling what happened.
The discussion can go rather more in depth when a writer really wants to know more.
brom21 wrote: As a rule, I have been told not to use state of being verbs like is, was, were and so on. Thanks for confirming the idea of narrating specific actions rather than scant, blocky passive utilization. I should make use of the active voice more often. lol. Thanks for the NL!
Monty wrote: Can an inanimate object perform an action? When an Icicle falls off the roof and hits you on the head.
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