By Lifeline on Jun 3, 2020 at 1:36 PM
  1. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    The importance of Details in writing

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by Lifeline, Jun 3, 2020.

    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.

     
    deadrats, Larro, Richach and 11 others like this.

Comments

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Lifeline, Jun 3, 2020.

    1. Cdn Writer
      Cdn Writer
      This is great! It's hard to explain but it does help me quite a bit with a specific scene I'm struggling with. Thanks for sharing!

      Scott
      Lifeline, Steve Rivers and jannert like this.
    2. Xoic
      Xoic
      This just merged with something I've been seeing way too much of on the board lately—all these posts about how to describe the physical appearance of a character, as if that's the be-all and end-all of character. It isn't. It's detail, and the wrong kind of detail. That's not a character, it's a body. Or clothes and hair and eye color. You could give this kind of description at the beginning of a murder mystery, of the victim! A body with no life, no personality, no motivation. In short, no character. Don't give me height, weight, age and eye color. Give me motivation. Personality. The living parts of the character, the parts that actually drive the story ahead. Those are the kind of details we want. Maybe a little about appearance, but let that be the spice rather than the main course.

      I apologize, I seem to have been infected by Wreybies. Ranting isn't normally my style.
      Lifeline, Cloudymoon and Steve Rivers like this.
    3. Steve Rivers
      Steve Rivers
      Just as long as we dont have to add Wreybies to the list of things we have to self-isolate from.

      But yeah, i couldn't agree more. I think it's also an unspoken trust thing between author and reader, as well.

      For instance, while doing a beta read of JD Ray's book, he told me about a writer (i forget who) that took 100 pages before he even started his story, and most people put it down before ever getting to it.
      I was.... "I could never read a book like that. " I dont care how amazing the story might have been when it did start up, I dont care how amazing his world building might be before that, I pick up a fiction book for entertainment. That is the basis of 99.99999% of everyone who picks up a book, to be entertained. I dont mind those that want to write a book for themself, that's cool with me, but I want to write stuff that I myself want to read.

      That means you, as an author, understanding that and are doing this to entertain the reader. You think your story is entertaining and it might entertain them. Readers will give you leeway, but at the end of the day, they want entertainment.
      That means not wasting their time by overly indulging yourself. So it comes down to a matter of learning to trust the author, and an author earning that trust.
      I try and keep that first and foremost in my mind when I write stuff down.

      If you are reading a description of a character's clothes, or I'm pointing out specific objects in someone's study bookshelf, I make sure there's a -reason- to the story or character I'm doing it for. I make sure it is "mission critical." And only stray when I want a bit of added atmosphere or emotion.
      When the reader sees it come to pass for why you did it, then they realize the text only goes down on the page for a reason, then they trust you in future.
      I see it as an unspoken promise you're making the reader. And the incentive is that if I do it right, and they see the promises pay off, they will then go with me on the next book, and so on.
    4. manieraien
      manieraien
      Great quote, thanks for sharing - it sparked me many thoughts. I think it will help me with my essay - I plan to start writing tomorrow. Hope your post will be useful for many users of the forum.
      Last edited by a moderator: Jun 11, 2020
    5. jannert
      jannert
      Moderator Note: I deleted your link to the actual essay you're writing, as it's not allowed to link to school/course work, here on the forum.
    6. Wreybies
      Wreybies
      No, no, no, luv. You have yet to see a proper, big-boy panties rant from me. ;)
      Xoic likes this.
    7. jannert
      jannert
      I really like this article, even though I don't write war stories. But the way to handle detail is important to consider, in my opinion.

      Yeah, if you linger over a detail, it will get noticed.

      The problem comes when you want the reader to remember the detail, but don't want them to think it's important ...so you can pull off the twist or the surprise. You want the reader to say, afterwards, 'I never saw that coming,' with a sense of respect. The implication is that they know they SHOULD have seen it coming—because that detail was there all along! Mystery writers become really adept at this sort of thing.

      Misdirection is a good thing to study. Your pile of rocks, for example. If you want the reader to notice and remember that pile of rocks, but NOT associate it with a potential bombing device, you'll need to cleverly misdirect the reader into thinking it's something else. Maybe they can think it's a part of an ancient building that has crumbled away almost to nothing (and begin to study the landscape with that in mind. Or maybe there is a predatory creature sitting on top of the pile, getting a good view of the approaching people. It might leap down from the rock pile and chase the humans, or leap down from the rock pile and head for the tall timber. Folks will remember the rock pile and the animal, but they won't necessarily be thinking 'uh, oh ...bomb...'
    8. alpacinoutd
      alpacinoutd
      I always try to ask myself these questions:
      Is this detail moving the story forward? Or is it a distraction?

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