I read a tweet this morning where someone was telling another person that they couldn’t possibly express just how much the little conversations that they share meant to them – the little details, that sort of thing. You get the picture. It made me think of just how important those details are in our lives. I believe there’s a line in the Crow (of all things) about how, during his life, he had dismissed the little things, but now realizes that there are no little things. It’s true, too. Every minute of our lives is precious, every minute is one less minute we’ll have here. I think we often lose sight of this, and the details become easy to dismiss with all the noise around us.
Of course, we also can’t beat ourselves up about it. It’s the nature of the human mind to drown these things out and only focus on what’s “important”. Doing otherwise takes a concentrated effort and we’re not always at our best to be able to stay present like that. One place where we, as writers, especially need to stay present is in our works. It’s easy enough to fire off a bunch of words that are loosely connected to things and may follow the plot or planned structure but are hollow and devoid of our emotional presence – and that will shine through, no doubt.
You can tell when a writer is phoning it in. Details become hazy, characters speak on auto-pilot, and contradictions begin to mount. I’ve seen it in movies, I’ve seen it in TV, and I’ve seen it in books.
I’ve definitely seen it in my own writing; this week has been a difficult one for me, as I’ve been sleeping rather poorly and busy with important work on top of that, so my ability to really get my claws into my writing has been limited. Very frustrating, and yet I’ve had to accept that this is the way things are at the moment. The important thing has been to keep writing as best as I can, but I have certainly been phoning it in and then coming back and handling cleanup duty on the next day.
This has really made me focus on the details. The questions become all-consuming. Is this action consistent with the character’s personality? Does this step make sense? These are important questions to ask yourself when either creating or going back to edit. The details can be what makes or breaks a story; they connect the reader with the world that you are crafting. Be sure not to let them fall to the wayside.
That hoary old chestnut The Elements of Style said it best: “If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on one point it is on this: The surest way to arouse and hold the reader is to be specific, definite, and concrete…the greatest writers…are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter.”
Here are a few more questions to consider:
- Can I hear the character’s voice in my head? If not, how can I make that clearer?
- Can I picture this place in my mind, walk around inside it, know its quirks?
- Have I offered enough detail for that environment in the applicable senses…did I describe the smell of the place?