Go Ahead . . . Everybody's Doing It by Ann Haywood Leal
It’s not that bad, right? Some people just want to do it and get it over with. Some look forward to it eagerly. Adding details to our writing is like decorating for the holidays. Once you immerse yourself into it, you are hooked – and so will be your readers.
C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we ‘ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”
If you add the right detail, just a tiny word or two, you can make the reader laugh, or cry, or catch their breath.
Finding those perfect details isn’t as hard as it sounds. Try to notice the little things around you. What is that man doing in the car next to you? Is he texting? Is he weeping? Is he picking his nose?
When you add details to your story, it becomes personal. It goes from being any old story to being personal. That’s when it becomes real.
Maybe you are writing about the lady next door taking her garbage out in the morning. Get nosey with those characters. Ask yourself those impolite questions. What’s in that garbage and why does she have to take it out every morning? What’s that stain on her robe? Are her curtains open or closed, and how come she keeps her curtains closed in the daytime?
Try to notice those little details—I call it thinking like a poet. My favorite poets use very spare language to make the story come to life in the poem. They make every word count. They pay attention to subtle things, like the way someone’s voice goes up or down a little when they say certain things. Or the way their voice catches.
Don’t be afraid to channel Gladys Kravitz. Spy on those people in their stories. What’s out front of the house? Why are all those cars in the driveway all of a sudden? What’s going on over there?
Is there a death? A birth?
The cars are coming and going at all hours of the night. Are they drug dealers?
Don’t be satisfied with just steps. Make them creak.
Don’t be satisfied with just a classroom. Jazz it up. Put some contraband in there. Make someone throw up or want to throw up.
Details can be deceptive, too. They can trick us—they can trick the reader. You can drop a tiny detail in and see if the reader notices—a bit of foreshadowing.
I leave you with some holiday cheer from Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning-bug.”
Now get back to your decorating!