Posts Tagged ‘details’

Photo Friday: In the Details

April 12, 2019

When it comes to choosing the right lens, it’s in the details.

weave 2

Viewing the forest from the plane.

October 24, 2011

When you fly over a forest, in a plane, it’s easy to forget that the forest is made up of individual trees, bushes, flowers, and animals.  Yes, it’s important to see the big picture, but you should never forget the individual parts that go into making the big picture.  Let’s take a look at the panoramic photograph of Portland, Maine above.  What you see is a very wide angle of the port, and city.  What is not seen, or noticed is that it took three photos to make this.  (if you want to see the process of this photograph go to and watch the video)

The same thought is true for writing.  Whether it’s a short story, or an epic novel, you can’t have a whole, without the parts.  Too many writing instructors try to get their students to focus on the plot, (the panoramic) and not enough focus on the three parts of the plot; setting, situation, and character.(The three photos).  If you want your story to be well rounded, you need to go deeper into each of those three, to bring the details out, (Parts of the three photos like the boat, and specific buildings.)

When you write a story that you want people to read; you want readers to see, taste, smell, and feel everything your character experiences, but that will never happen if you don’t focus on the details.

Let’s try a quick example.  Elizabeth slowly ascended the stairs; the freshly sharpened hatchet from her father’s workshop felt like an extension of her arm which hung down by her side. She quietly entered the bedroom where her mother napped, and began to use the axe on her mother’s head.  Her task completed, she made her way downstairs, and hid under the stairwell to wait for her father to pass out drunk on the sofa, like he did every night.

As gruesome as this little scene could be, this scene is lacking details to bring the reader into the story.  Details that answer questions such as; “Why did Elizabeth feel compelled to murder her parents?” and “What made her use the axe?”  If you’re like me your mind filled in a lot of blanks.  I did not get this from an actual horror story; this started from an actual murder case, and I added some of my own ideas to make it a different story.  As the scene reads right now, this could have been part of a news article.

During your first draft, most of the scenes will read just like this; just a shell of action, without all the gory details.  Even though you aren’t writing them down now, keep a notepad next to you to keep track of them as you need to.  The first draft is basically looking at the forest from the plane.  When you begin revising, you will be landing the plane, getting out, and exploring the forest floor.



How much description is too much?

March 4, 2009

“God is in the details”.  This phrase is used so much, that it has crossed into the realm of clichés.  While I’ve heard this phrase uttered for industries from maid service to politics, in writing, those details can go too far.  Of course, how much description is too much?

When Charles Dickens was still alive, and writing, critics said that he over described everything and the only thing anyone would ever get out of the writing is a good night sleep.  Now we read his books and get an insight into the England of the past, a very different landscape where workhouses were cruel to the orphans who lived in them.

Description is a writer’s tool to draw people into the world from their point of view.  It is a tool to establish character, and setting, but there are ways it can go too far.  Here are three.

The first is obvious description.  Obvious description is the type that leaves people saying “duh” and putting the book down.  Things like “The sky above me”, “The ground below me”, don’t laugh, I’ve actually read these in published books.  I just gave those books to goodwill, without finishing them.  It’s a desperate attempt to make a word count without having to use your creativity.  In a novel 80,000 words or more, the occasional slipup is forgivable, but when the writer uses them throughout the novel, I have to wonder if there is any talent behind the words.

The second is describing something that has nothing to do with what you’re writing.  If you’re writing a romance in Maine, you don’t want to describe a dog running through a field in India.  It may seem abstract, and poetic, but to readers it’s annoying and they’ll never make it past the first page.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using abstract and poetic material in books, after all, Shakespeare did it all the time, but you need to make sure it’s relevant to the story.

The third way description can go too far is when it would be better shown than told.  When people don’t have something to reference, tell us about it.  A good example of this would be an historical novel about a king.  You wouldn’t describe a fifth century palace by showing us a shopping mall.  You would tell us about the rooms and corridors.  On the other hand, if you are describing a shopping mall you can have your character walk past an Orange Julius, or The Gap, and most everyone would know what you’re talking about without lengthy exposition.

While writing consider carefully the way you describe your subject, or setting. Just remember the saying, “a place for everything, and everything in its place”; this is the thing to think about when deciding between show and tell.

Challenge:  If you come across a part when you don’t know whether you should “show” or “tell”, try writing it in different ways, and see which method draws you in more.