It’s in the Details

I was reminded today is my day to post and could only think crap in a sack. Yesterday we spent the day driving to and from O’Hare in Chicago so I’ve nothing ready. Forgive me if this is kind of rough.

My blog is entitled It’s in the Details because the small details can really make or break a manuscript. Details add life. They show a character without telling. Small points enrich a story and make it real. They give readers something to grasp at and say ‘oh, yeah, I’ve seen a person like that’. Adding in the details is like putting frosting and sprinkles on top of your cake.

I have a scene where a girl crouches naked in the weeds. (You might have seen it from this week in the marathon.) At first, it was a decent scene, but it needed more. So I went back and gave the weeds names: thistles, milkweed, garlic mustard plant. A thistle scratched her bare skin. I put in a strategic sharp rock. A garlic mustard weed crackled under her as she shifted, giving off a sharp scent when she tried to escape the rock that poked her bottom. Now I had something real. Who hasn’t sat on the ground and got poked by a rock? That shows she’s human, a rock annoyed her. That’s the core of world building. You might have wizards or vampires, manticores or zombies for excitement, but the small touches make it real.

Another example might be having a cloud of gnats pester your main character as they ride along on horseback or a cloud pass over the sun which sends your character into dark thoughts. There are infinite ways to use the environment to set the mood of a character, and it’s all about using those details to breathe life into words.

Which sets the mood better?

A single candle was in the room. She sat on her big bed and looked at her expensive paintings.


She focused on light from the night candle as it played over the wood of carved furniture and displayed silk and brocade fabrics. On the walls, paintings and tapestries were thrown into shades of gray, their colors muted. The flickering light cast dancing shadows over exposed skin.

And you can and should use details to flesh out characters. As example I have a minor character who is a high bishop in a fantasy world. I could say he was pudgy and old and had a high opinion of himself. Or I could show his character with details. Dressed in his violet robes and wearing his miter over his scant gray hair, the bishop held out his golden ring of office, topped with a two caret ruby, to be kissed. His jowls shook when the queen hesitated. Those two lines show many things about him. Gray hair-older. Big flashy ring and bright clothing-grasping and ambitious. Jowls shook-pudgy and concerned with his precedence. Probably not someone you’re going to like.

Without the right details, you have only the shell of a world. It’s all about expanding your senses and noticing things around you then adding those things to your story.


One thought on “It’s in the Details

  1. E.F. Jace says:

    I think there’s something to be said, though, for the other side of things. Ie, using too much detail. Going with your first example (and this is just a personal thing) had I read in a book the names of the different types of weeds, I’d be annoyed as hell. Depending on the scene, if she’s running or hiding or what, reading technical things like the names of plants or flowers, slows down the pace for me. On top of that I have no idea what the difference is between a milkweed and a garlic mustard plant, so I’d just feel frustrated by not being able to picture what you’re showing me, especially since it’s presented as though I should know what it is lol

    But that’s a personal twitch. As with everything in writing, details need to be given in moderation. Otherwise you’re drowning the reader in miscellaneous facts that do more to pull them out than in.

    Great post! 🙂

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