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Terri Ann Armstrong

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Do the Details in Writing Matter?
by Terri Ann Armstrong   
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Last edited: Monday, November 15, 2010
Posted: Monday, November 15, 2010

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Article in Suspense Magazine

Do the Details in Writing Matter?

By

Terri Ann Armstrong

It depends on what you’re writing. A short story has to have some of the details left out in order for it to stay under a certain word count. That doesn’t mean however, that you can completely eliminate all of the color in your work. What I mean is, paint a picture with your words, make the reader see it in front of them as if it were really there.

Details breathe life into your body of work. You can learn and teach a lot about a character by how they speak, what they wear, how they react and even what they eat. Janet Evanovich’s character, Stephanie Plum seems to gravitate to donuts when she’s upset. So whenever I read her, if Stephanie’s in a situation that has her nervous or upset, I know a donut is not far behind. Her side-kick Lula is dressed loudly with the colors she chooses. That is who Lula is and I know her, she is my friend.

Everything a character does draws a picture. Every scene is white until you breathe color into it and make it real for the reader. Close your eyes and imagine your scene. What’s there? How can you write what you see so the reader can see it too? Describe how the moon casts a shadow and where. What does it look like in the part that’s lit and the part that hides in the shadows? Tell us. Make it real and you will have a better story because of it.

Below is an example of what happens in a novel when you leave out the vital details:

Even though she knew what was to happen next, Acacia couldn’t help but pause to admire their surroundings. Taking the glass from Jerusha, she walked around the suite in awe. There were giant bouquets of long-stemmed, red roses everywhere.

            The suite door opened into a large living room area; it had a sofa with two wing back chairs to match. The carpet was white as snow and her toes sank into it.

            Over the sofa was a painting of a meadow filled with wild flowers, her favorite. Sunflowers were easily the main focus for the artist. Along with them were patches here and there of goldenrod and hyacinth. The grass was so green she could smell it as if it was freshly mowed.

            A large chandelier hung in the very center of the room. It reminded her of the rainbows she’d see after a warm, summer shower. Sometimes it was so bright, she felt like she could reach up and grab it from the sky and put it in her pocket for all time.

Now here’s the same thing only the details have been added to paint you a picture you won’t soon forget:

Even though she knew what was to happen next, Acacia couldn’t help but pause to admire their surroundings. Taking the glass from Jerusha, she walked around the suite in awe; everywhere she looked there were giant bouquets of long-stemmed, red roses. Their scent captured her; it was May and she was fifteen again, lying in the hammock in her father’s backyard, his dozens of rose bushes surrounding her. Pink, yellow, white and red buds; their aroma encased her in a rose-scented womb and she reveled in their perfume. The warm, spring breeze cascaded across her young body and she dreamed of her wedding day and how she would carry roses that smelled like Poppa’s. It was intoxicating and she smiled at the memory.

The suite door opened into a large living room area; it had a long, red velvet sofa with wood trim and two wing back chairs to match. The carpet was white as snow and her toes sank deeply into the weave of it when she walked. She could feel it between her toes and it made her giggle with delight.

Over the sofa was a long, black velvet painting of a meadow filled with wild flowers, her favorite. Statuesque sunflowers were easily the main focus for the artist. Along with them were patches here and there of goldenrod and hyacinth that were so brightly painted, she could smell their fragrance jump from the picture. The grass was so green she could smell it as if it was freshly mowed. She could hear the wind blowing and when it kissed the blades of grass it sounded like paper wind chimes. Standing there, she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath; she wanted to remember the scent the vivid picture lent to her imagination.

A large chandelier hung in the very center of the room and when it was lit, the dangling, crystals were so clear; their prisms held every beam and cast tiny rainbows of light on the walls that surrounded her. It reminded her of the rainbows she’d see after a warm, summer shower when the sun would shine its bright light through the droplets of rain and project a huge, bright rainbow over the giant, oak trees in her yard. Sometimes it was so bright, she felt like she could reach up and grab it from the sky and put it in her pocket for all time. As a child, she allowed herself to believe about the pot of gold at the end of those rainbows. Now, standing there with her groom, she knew she found hers. ©

The difference is astounding. Adding touches where you want the reader to see what you see is a true gift and one that should be used often. Whether it be a murder scene, a child playing with a toy, a love scene or something like a picture hanging, bring your readers along for the ride you’re taking as you write. Take them for the adventure of their lives and they’ll come back for more every time they venture to the bookstore.

 

 



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