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Psh! Details Shmetails.

April 12, 2010

A child stands at the top of the steps and drops a ball. 

Quick – what do you visualize when reading the sentence above?

How old is the child?

Girl or boy?

Are the steps inside or outside?

How many steps?

What color is the ball?

How big is the ball?

Is the child playing a game?

Did the child drop it accidentally?

Is someone at the bottom ready to catch it?

Personally, I picture a little girl, about four years old standing at the top of the staircase in my old house when I was that age.  There are about 12 stairs and they’re steep and narrow with walls on both sides.  She has on blue overalls and her light brown hair is curly and in pigtails – but kind of messy, falling out around her face.  The ball is aqua blue and medium-sized, a nice size for a four-year old.  Nobody is at the bottom of the stairs, she just threw it down to watch it bounce. 

For fun, and to compare what everyone else visualizes to get the full effect of what happens when you omit the details, leave a comment and answer the questions above. 

When I first started writing, my beta readers had a lot of questions about the details.  Like, “Where is she here?  I picture XYZ, is that right?”  This was bad.  I didn’t want my readers having no visual, or to leave them to make up their own.  I wanted a fully realized experience to emerge lifelike out of my manuscript.  And more than just visual, what about the other senses?  What does your MC smell at the beach?  Fish and seaweed, or hotdogs from a vendor on the pier?  How does the sand feel under her feet?  Dry, gritty and hot, or wet, spongy and cold?  What does she taste when the hot guy finally kisses her?  His mint gum?  Or, (God forbid) did he just smoke a cigarette and tastes like licking an ashtray? 

Since action and dialogue come naturally to me, but details…not so much, I’ve gotten better at consciously asking myself during the course of writing what the MC’s senses are picking up.  How about you?  How do you rate with the details in your writing?

-Jamie

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2 comments

  1. I see a 3 year old girl, with bright blonde curls. She’s inside at the top of a set of long, steep steps and looking down. On one side of the stairs is a white wall, on the other a wooden railing. The ball is red and medium sized, just right for her hands. There’s no one at the bottom, she just lets it bounce down. =)

    I’m terrible with details. I never know if I wrote too many or too little. I’m a VERY visual person, so I love rich descriptions (if there aren’t too many!), but in my writing I see things so clearly, that I get the feeling I can never quite do what is in my mind’s eyes justice. So I’m pretty much trying to learn to get it right!


  2. I love your example, Jamie! That said, I actually like it when writers give me details, but just enough—at least when it comes to character descriptions! When they describe every little thing down to the last button color, how many eyelashes, and brand of shoelace, my brain goes into overload. Then, every time the character comes onscreen, so to speak, I pause and fight my brain, bc it wants to make up MY OWN image, and try to force myself to insert all the details the writer gave me instead. It pulls me out of the reading experience. This used to happen a ton when I read romance novels, lol.



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