I recently read an anthology 'Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War'. This anthology has been published 10th Dec 2019 by Middle West Press LLC, the Military Writers Guild, editors Randy Brown & Steve Leonard (https://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Write-Essays-Writing-ebook/dp/B07Z8BQD6T) with the intention of educating writers who want to write about war about aspects of their craft. Each of the included essays gives a unique viewpoint about writing and sometimes about war. All of them have been put together with care and attention to detail.
One stands out. 'Attention to detail' by Steven L. Moore. He talks about how to make writing real, to show the reader boundaries by which to place the events not in the fiction category but as 'true'. Moore maintains that it's all the result of details.
Details give the reader a framework within which a story happens. Supposedly, details are the periphery of the story. If the thing was any less meaningful, the writer would have left it out. But the writer wrote it, the reader reads it and bounces off, gets directed back inside the story.
That means what you don't include is similarly important to what you actually write down. So how unimportant is a detail that you don't include it? Some details are inconsequential or beside the point. Some aren't.
In the framework of war, details can get you or your buddies killed. Moore takes as example a pile of stones by the road—a detail. The pile can mask a problem that's known as IED (improvised explosive devise). This specific detail clearly is important, if there is an IED underneath. But as writers we are tasked to discern between the important and the inconsequential. If there is no IED underneath, do I still include the pile of stones in the story?
If a patrol sees the stones, they'll put up a cordon and call the bomb disposal guys. They'll set up a security perimeter. They'll remain on this spot. So the pile of stones, formerly classified as 'detail', is no longer inconsequential, not since it got noticed. Until they looked at it. Until they lingered because of it.
Moore brings the example of a movie. The moment the camera lingers, it affects the narrative. The moment the writer describes a detail, it immediately becomes important because the reader looks at it.
As writers, we can't describe everything. We have to tell the reader which detail is important. So the task of the writer is to choose the detail which best distill everything around it. Remember, we are not talking about the large storyline. We are talking about details.
I'll leave you with a quote from this essay. Moore wrote down a brief scene, which is defined by a detail. I love this detail. It places the scene in reality.