Writing the right details will help you craft more immersive, meaningful, and layered stories.
If you’ve been writing very long, you’ll know the importance of mentioning details in your writing. Appealing to the senses and attention to detail is what will ground your reader and bring your story to life. Details often make it so that your reader experiences your story, instead of just reading about it.
So as writers, we might want to mention what a character is wearing, the color of her hair, the smell of a river, or the texture of a tent. Usually we want to tag our characters with a particular description. If you read Harry Potter, you’ll know the Minister of Magic, Fudge, always has a bowler hat, that Dumbledore has twinkling eyes and half-moon spectacles, that Professor Trelawney wears shawls and smells like sherry. J.K. Rowling regularly mentions the same details for these characters to tag them. This helps readers remember who the characters are and reminds them of their demeanors and behaviors.
But sometimes as writers, we don’t pick meaningful details. We just pick something. We might say that “the man wore a white shirt.” Okay. But that’s so generic, we might as well not even mention it. It’s so generic, that the reader is going to forget it almost immediately after reading it. It’s not even characteristically interesting enough to be a tag. So it won’t even help us remember the character.
So if you’re ready to take your descriptions to the next level, focus on picking details that are worth mentioning. We tend to gravitate toward describing colors, because it’s the most obvious thing, but often it’s the most worthless description. If you tell us the color of every single shirt every person wears, it’s (likely) meaningless. For characters, many of us gravitate toward hair and eye color. Of course, for important characters, we usually want to mention that, but we want to go beyond it too. We want to mention the physical traits that are unique and interesting–the x-shaped scar on the chin, the tattooed music note on the neck, the broken nose.
See how each of those descriptions has some kind of meaning or story behind it, even if we don’t know what it is? They’re unique details, and frankly, it’s the unique details we usually notice first about people (or places) anyway, so your viewpoint character would probably mention them.
Give your readers details that deserve attention, that mean something. Remember that man with the white shirt? Well, what if we said this, “Grease stains marred his white shirt.” That’s better. It clues the reader into this character. He does something, maybe some kind of work, that has grease, and it’s messy. We could also write this, “His white shirt was stained from too many fast-food fryers at too many fast-food jobs.” Now that’s more interesting. It tells us something about the character. It gives him character. It’s not generic. Not as easily forgotten.
Do the same with setting. We could write, “Jack sat down. His desk was a tan square with four legs.” Wow. That’s generic. Or we could write, “Jack’s desk had one leg shorter than the other, so it wobbled when he wrote. Someone had carved a lightning strike into the top that Jack’s pencil often caught on.” See how the desk itself has more character? How it’s more interesting?
You can even do this with summary. You could write, “Gwen’s mom and dad died in a car crash.” Wow. Haven’t seen that one before. It seems like everyone dies in books from either a car crash or from cancer. Give us an interesting detail–either an interesting new death concept, or a detail that makes the car crash unique. Move away from the generic. Stop making all the trees in stories oaks or maples, and if they are oaks and maples, mention something interesting about them–that one is dying, or has been struck by lightning, or has a suicide note carved into it.
Your details can have layers. In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books, one character’s library is described as having loads of scholarly and philosophical books, but all the spines are stiff and straight and none of the pages are dog-eared and each volume is dusty. Those are details that mean something. They go deeper than just the surface. They tell us about the character. He likes to talk and pretend to be scholarly, but he actually hasn’t put in the work or research to be a scholar.
The mention of this character’s library, the details in the description, are interesting, meaningful, and layered.
There are two caveats to all this: Not everything deserves highly specific descriptions.Moreoverr, the Sometimes the reader just needs to know that a “tree” was nearby. And the more specific something is, the more it will slow pacing. Often the right pacing is more important than description.
A writer doesn’t necessarily need to overload something with details. Yet being generic in details is about the same as leaving out details. Saying there was a “tree with green leaves” isn’t helping the text. When the subject isn’t particularly important (yet still important enough to mention) aim for brief specific details.
About September C. Fawkes:
Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and storytelling. She has worked in the fiction-writing industry for over ten years and has edited for both award-winning and best-selling authors, as well as beginning writers. She runs a writing tip blog at SeptemberCFawkes.com and is teaching an online writing course, The Triarchy Method of Story. When not editing and instructing, she’s penning her own stories. Some may say she needs to get a social life. It’d be easier if her fictional one wasn’t so interesting.
📌 The Scoop about LAST week on
Apex’s Strategy and Mastermind
The week of March 27, Apexers got to:
- Do a community meet-up during Strategy where we shared some of our work for feedback AND had a informative discussion on how to create groups for critiques and brainstorming and for writers rings.
- Have an amazing hands-on workshop and leave Monday’s Mastermind with our own powerful and personal branding statement with Beth Barany during her presentation, Branding for Novelists, Draft Your Author Branding Statement
- Be inspired with the great discussion with Forrest on belief systems — how they can help or hinder and how to make them work for us — PLUS we got a t-shirt worthy quote “Don’t Let Invisible Reality Hold You in Place!”
March Microfiction Madness
- Our judges, Joshua Dyer, along with Jen Bair, Jan Nerenberg, Danuta Raine, and Mike Jack Stoumbos announced the ranking for our finalists. Thank you all!!
March Microfiction Madness Final Results!
by Joshua Dyer
On behalf of Apex Writers and my fellow judges, I’d first like to thank all the contestants for their hard work and superb stories. Furthermore, you wrote on a tight turn around with challenging prompts at every turn. Thank you for making this tournament possible.
Without further ado, here are the results for our top twelve finalists:
Gold medalist. Brandon Clark. “The Fog’s Song” 188.3
Silver medalist. Ruth Nickle. “Men and Monsters” 180.3
Bronze medalist. Eric Stallsworth. “Not Without Hector” 180.2
High Honorable Mentions:
4. Maggie England. “Fatal Memories” 179.9a
5. Tammy Burke. “Heaven’s Shore” 178.8a
6. Michael Wine. “Remembering Spring” 177.6
7. Jade Wildy. “Bosco’s Circus” 173.0
8. Jenna Livingston. “Moonlight” 169.5
9. Blake Wallace. “Winter’s Exile” 169.3
10. Jan Villaverde. “Turn of the Blade” 169.2
11. Scott Sands. “Forgotten Shores” 163.8
12. Dina Scott. “Find a Way Home” 161.4
Join us in congratulating all our contestants. As you can see, this was splitting hairs in many cases. Competition was tight. In addition, you should take pride in all you’ve accomplished in this tournament. Well done! Certificates will be emailed out this coming week.
Thank you again to my fellow judges: Danuta Raine, Jen Bair, and Jan Nerenberg for their time and talents. Choosing winners was no easy task.
A huge thanks to Apex Writers for sponsoring the tournament. It means a lot.
But wait! There’s more!
As promised, here’s your bonus content for participating in the tournament. With four new microfiction stories, you now have strong contenders for the marketplace. Use these markets to your advantage.
Keep an eye out later this June for a month-long “summer camp” for Apexers and our families. Camp Fic-A-Kee will officially open for its first generation of campers. Completely free, of course. A virtual summer camp for writers and readers alike.
– Earn cool virtual merit badges.
– Make new pals
– Participate in a host of activities: Storytelling scavenger hunt, campfire group story, cover art crafting, and much more!
Camp cabins (Dragon Lodge, Space Forge Lodge, Elven Lodge, Battlestar Lodge, and Magika Lodge) will compete all month for the Director’s Trophy. Moreover, the lodge with the most overall points from the activities wins the trophy!
Stay tuned for more information and registration instructions. Your literary summer adventure awaits!
📌 Shout-out to some of our Apexers for this week!
- To everyone who participated — judges, contestants, and those who played at home or followed along —for the inaugural MMM challenge!
- to Mike Jack Stoumbos for his story in the upcoming DRAGONESQUE anthology from Zombies Needs Brains. https://zombies-need-brains-llc.square.site.
📌 If you have success news you’d like to share about yourself or another Apexer, please reach out to Tammy. We’d love to do a shout-out!!