“Detailing” your writing

What makes a piece of writing special? Probably your answers would differ from mine, but the question is worth considering if you want your writing to be special. So maybe the place to start is, what makes anything special? A summer day, for instance.

I’m not a hot-weather person. I like many aspects of summer, but not the 90+ hot-and-humid weather such as Chicago just suffered through. Special = not ordinary. In the midst of tropical weather, cool/dry brings a welcome change from summer’s ordinary. But how does a writer communicate that specialness in words on a page?

One key is relevant detail. Many writing essays, books and courses stress the importance of sensory detail in descriptions. But making your writing special takes more than just checking off sensory detail: sight, scent, sound, touch and taste.

early summer morning with sun rays behind tree Back to that special summer day. For me, my recognition of a special day starts with sight and touch: The cool breeze and bright, early morning sun lighting trees, grass against bright blue sky, maybe a few white clouds. Breeze leads to scent, bringing to me sweet clover, dew-wet cut grass and, as the day warms, sun-warmed dust and pine. And sound: birdsong in early morning can mask distant traffic.

Sometime in the special day, you will eat and drink. Is special for you that first cup of coffee in the cool of the morning or a cold drink at the end of a hot day? Dinner at a marvelous restaurant, a cookout with friends, or a picnic with just Mom, Dad and kids?

Special often means memorable. What will you remember? And what details bring back other memories? For me, sound and scent most often trigger summer memories.

Most vivid: dusty hot pine. That smell links my mind directly and only to Cape Cod, where my family rented a cottage every summer for about 15 years. Lots of pine on Cape Cod. So whether I’m standing on a sunny Colorado hillside, or walking by a landscape planting in the city, the smell of hot, dusty pine makes me remember Cape Cod summers.

More recently, I’ve realized that I associate some sounds very strongly with special places. Blue jays calls, for instance, sound like Nova Scotia spruce forests to me. Gulls crying, on the other hand, bring much less specific memories … but the sight of a bunch of them soaring together may trigger memories of gulls following the ferry to Nantucket or Nova Scotia.

When you’re considering what details to add, remember this: Your detail shouldn’t distract from the point of your story (essay, report or proposal). So look for the details essential to your theme and eliminate the others. The right details for your writing are the relevant and memorable details.


About Susan NC Price

Writing coach Susan NC Price has been a poet all her life and an editor for half her life, but only realized in her late 30s that she enjoyed writing all sorts of prose as well. The twin epiphanies of word processing and realizing she no longer had teachers forcing her to use their style of outlining outlines contributed to her late-blooming love of writing. Susan has 1 prizewinning short story, 2 grown writer sons, 3 current e-newsletters she maintains and a host of writing projects to her credit. She's currently working to develop new writers through her coaching endeavor: re/Write: Scribbles to Stories (see Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ReWrite-Scribbles-to-Stories).
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