If you read yesterday’s post you can see I’m drawn to posts that are focusing on the art of writing or editing and the debutante ball blogged about it last week. Lori Radar-Day focused on convincing readers that our stories are real. She say’s,
“I think significant detail plays a big role in “convincing” readers that they are stepping into a real world with real people in it.
Not just “detail.” Significant detail. According to Janet Burroway, author of THE book on writing (you probably own a copy if you ever studied creative writing in college at any point) Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, creating significant detail is a two-fold process. First, the detail is anchored in the senses. And second, the detail adds to the story you’re telling. Burroway say, “A detail is concrete if it appeals to one of the five senses; it is significant if it also conveys an idea or a judgment or both. The window sill was green is concrete, because we can see it. The window sill was shedding flakes of fungus-green paint is concrete, and also conveys the idea that the paint is old and suggests the judgment that the color is ugly. The second version can also be seen more vividly.”
See how the shedding flakes of the paint goes right to every memory or thought you’ve had about old houses? Maybe an abandoned house? Or an apartment you’d rather not be living in? You felt those shedding flakes of paint in your gut, right? You were in that room.
That’s because significant details do more than describe. They add layers to your meaning. They hint at themes. They set tone. And they contribute to how your reader understands the overall work.
John Gardner says, “The novelist gives you such details about the streets, stores, weather, politics, and concerns of Cleveland (or wherever the setting is) and such details about the looks, gestures, and experiences of his characters that we cannot help believing that the story he tells us is true.”
Just like a good liar, a fiction writer is believed when he/she is specific, definite, concrete.”
I bolded my favorite part about appealing to one of the five senses because I’ve never looked at it that way before. Never thought about it adding to the reality of the story.