Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Devil is in the detail

As those who read my blogs will know, I think that detail is key to good writing and often teach classes on the subject.

One recent session started with a passage from D Robert Hamm, who said: “The first thing one needs to understand is that all fiction consists of the judicious selection and revelation of “significant detail”… Just as a serious painter learns what combinations of materials, brushes, strokes, and pigments he or she can use to achieve different effects and guide the viewers’ eyes through the painting, a serious writer must learn how various writing techniques can achieve the desired effects and guide the reader through the story….

“What constitutes significant detail varies from story to story, from desired effect to desired effect, and from character to character. A writer who wants to build suspense will choose certain details, while one playing up the comic aspect of a scene may choose entirely different details, or simply a different style of presentation, and even if going for basically the same end effect, any dozen writers will find a dozen different ways to go about it. Among other things, the details a character is most apt to notice, whether about another character, a sunrise, or a room, help to define and inform that character.“
I then looked at using details for Fiction. For instance:

Create details about character. Ask questions about your character. What does your character look like? How does he/she walk or talk? What kind of clothes does he/she wear? What nasty habits etc? What beliefs? And which facts are relevant?

Create details about your settings. What does your character's living room look like? Is it messy or is it tidy? Are there paintings on the wall etc etc? Create details that bring the settings to life. A story comes alive when the reader can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch the world you've created.

Don't be excessive in using details. Use only what is necessary.

Get those things right and your story will leap off the page.


John Dean

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