Author Tip Tuesday – Tip #17 It’s All in the Details

Details make the difference. When I make a second, third, fourth, etc pass on my manuscripts, I'm always on the look out on how I can add details to add dimension. Details are what help to keep our characters and settings from appearing flat and two-dimensional.

Technical details of home construction

From THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Pauline Hawkins

Setting details:

~~There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth—a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank.~~

Without details:

~~There is something on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish.~~

From PRETTY GIRLS by Karin Slaughter

~~At the jail, Claire’s wedding ring, watch and tennis shoelaces had been taken by a large woman with a mole between her hairy eyebrows whose general appearance reminded Claire of a stinkbug. There was no hair growing out of the mole, and Clair wanted to ask why she bothered to pluck the mole but not her eyebrows, but it was too late because another woman, this one tall and reedy like a paring mantis, was already taking Claire into the next room.~~

Without details:

~~At the jail, Claire’s wedding ring, watch and shoelaces had been taken by a women with a mole between her eyebrows. There was no hair growing out of the mole, and Claire wanted to ask why she bothered to pluck the mole but not her eyebrows, but it was too late because another woman was already taking Claire into the next room.~~

From GINGERBREAD MAN by Lee Strauss

~~A wry smile tugged up one side of his face as he counted all the pretty blond heads at the campus bar. He felt like a lion at a gazelle convention. He’d developed a taste for feisty blonds at fifteen when he cornered unsuspecting little Lola Fenster at a party.~~

Without details:

~~A smile tugged up one side of his face as he counted all the  blond heads at the campus bar. He felt like a lion at a gazelle convention. He’d developed a taste for blonds at fifteen when he cornered Lola Fenster at a party.~~

From PLAYING WITH MATCHES by Lee Strauss

Character details:

~~”Emil!”

He turned to find Katharina running to catch up to him.

“Hi,” he said. A strange discomfort settled over him. He'd never been alone with Katharina before. They were always together with the gang.

Katharina buried her pink nose into her scarf. Her hair was longer now, braids sticking out from underneath a wool hat. She had the tell-tale signs of early malnutrition–gray circles under her eyes and sunken cheeks, and her face was bright red from the cold. Despite that, he still thought that she was pretty.~~

Without details:

~~”Emil!”

He turned to find Katharina running to catch up to him.

“Hi,” he said. Discomfort settled over him. He'd never been alone with Katharina before. They were always together with the gang.

Katharina buried her nose into her scarf. Her hair was longer now, braids sticking out from underneath a hat. She had the telltale signs of early malnutrition. Despite that, he still thought that she was pretty.~~

It doesn't take much to brighten up a scene. Alternately, too many details can distract the reader from what is actually taking place in the scene.

For example:

Young Katharina buried her ruby-red nose into her dirty, brown scarf. Her white-color hair was longer now with scraggly braids sticking out from under a blue wool hat. She had the common telltale signs of early to moderate malnutrition–gray/purple circles under her brown eyes and sunken, hollow cheeks, and her oval face was bright, rosy-red from the icy cold. Despite that, he still thought that she was very pretty.

I feel like I'm in an art class instead of seeing what young Emil Radle is seeing. Your descriptions have to ring true to the character who is viewing them.

So when you’re revising your scenes keep in mind that details will help your reader to envision your characters and settings and help place her deep into your story.

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