Monday, October 11, 2010

The Importance of Being Detailed

Details make a story BLOOM

Through my querying history, I've learned a few things about writing from friendly agents who really do want to see new writers improve, and who took the time to offer suggestions and explanations for what they really wanted to see.

Most of the tips I've received relate to detail.

  • I'm not feeling a connection to the main character.
  • The setting isn't unique or vivid enough.
  • It's too much like something else I've read or seen.
Though these seem like vastly different complaints about the same book, and might lead aspiring authors to throw up their hands and give up, I was lucky enough to have awesome critique partners who saw the connecting thread:


I can hear you sighing from all the way over here, because you know that an amateur mistake most writers make in the beginning is adding too much useless detail, flowery prose, and tidbits that don't further the all-important story. But there's another side of the coin, too. In an effort to further the plot and avoid over-writing, I'd gotten into the habit of under-writing (and not in that legal, get paid for it definition).

I'd become stingy with the details. It turns out that this is a fabulous way to write a first draft, because the story just plows onward through conflict and climax and resolution without getting hung up on unimportant details like the color of somebody's hair or eyes, or the way the wind caressed somebody's face with her falling locks. In the first draft, you may not need to know that the flying buttresses reminded your MC of Cogsworth's tour in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and that she expected at any moment to come upon a ransacked West Wing where a caged rose wilted eternally.

But those are just the sort of details that can imply hidden emotion, conflict, and desires that help a reader connect to the main character. They're just the sort of details that establish a setting unique from other [insert saturated genre here] novels. They're just the sort of details that make the story yours and no one else's.

Details matter.

So while you're working so hard to avoid over-writing during a first draft, don't forget to reread with all five senses wide open to the world you see/hear/smell/taste/touch in your imagination. Because even if you're seeing it vividly, your readers might be missing out on something important--a connection.

Thank you to Angela and Lindsay, my CPs who so often make me open my senses to my own fictional world.


  1. What a great post Katrina. I deliberately wrote my current WIP under- rather than over-, so I could capture all the plot points and streamline my story in a way I haven't done before. I've decided I love writing in this way, so will probably do this from here on. But what it means is that I have to go back and add in a bit more detail (a lovely feeling when you don't have to worry about trimming word count!). I'll definitely be remembering your "five senses" point as I do so.

  2. Ah you know how I LOVE my five senses/detail. heehee.

    But I agree, a reread to include these once the main plot is out of the way allows the reader to connect much more to the characters. :)

  3. Ohhh the 5 senses are so important. I first heard about making sure they were in my writing from a memoir-writing class I took in my undergrad days. I don't always get them in my first drafts, but they are definitely something I keep in mind as I go back through during revisions. Wonderful post!

  4. Details = Bane of my existence!!

    But that's why crit partners rock. They catch things you don't.

    Great post!! And best of luck with the details ;)

  5. Great post! I also have a tendency, in an attempt not to overwrite, underwrite -- and it's so difficult for me to include all 5 senses. But that's definitely important. :)

    Emy Shin (my new blog)


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