Want to make your writing or your art more interesting? Want it to stand out and be remembered better? Want readers to be able to visualize with great clarity what you’re writing about?
There it is. Details. That’s the big secret, or at least one of them for crafting more interesting fiction and non-fiction and adding layers to your art.
As Steven Pinker points out in his excellent book, The Sense of Style, which sentence can you mentally picture (and thus likely retain) better:
“The set fell on the floor” or “The ivory chess set fell on the floor”?
Only two words differentiate the two sentences, yet that detail makes the second sentence more concrete. You can picture the ivory chess set better.
The ways in which you present details are as diverse as the types of writing you might do. But here are two considerations.
First, for fiction, use details to add depth and clarity to your descriptions. “It was a dark and moonless night” doesn’t make you feel the night as well as, “The darkness oppressed her, like the blackness of a cave, complete and unyielding.”
For non-fiction, wherever possible, use examples (as I just did above). Examples offer details while also providing an analogy the reader can relate to.
Details are your friend. But how do you go about making their acquaintance? You can rely on your imagination. But your imagination will grow if you learn to collect details and stockpile them for later.
Travel helps us in this regard. When we go out into the world with our eyes open and our notebooks or cameras or sketchpads at hand, we can see and then capture details we’d otherwise miss. We then bring back these small treasures to our studios for use in our work. Anyone can do this, but it helps to know some shortcuts and techniques. And where might one find such helpful tips?
I just completed a new paper, just for you, my guide to capturing and collecting details. It’s a free resource here if you’ve signed up on the site. I call it Come Closer: The Novelist’s Approach to Collecting Details because the basic concept came from an interview with a novelist I read many years ago. He described traveling to a city, for example, where a scene for his next book would take place. But instead of writing all the details about the whole city, he would find one interesting street corner and then document that thoroughly. He’d then have some great details he could throw into his descriptions that provided authenticity and made the scene more compelling.
I liken it to an Ingres drawing. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the 19th century French painter, is considered one of history’s finest draftsman. His drawings, such as the one above, are exquisite, but what I appreciate is his isolated use of extreme detail. In the above image, the background is a mere suggestion. Even the clothing is rendered with the minimal lines needed to convey meaning. But look at the faces. They are meticulously drawn. Ingres used details where they mattered and didn’t waste the effort in areas where they don’t. And so should we.
If you want to make your writing more interesting, check out the guide to capturing details. The beauty of it is that you’ll learn tips and techniques that will not only make you a better writer or artist, they’ll improve how you travel as well.