Sneaky Detail

Sneaky Detail

A Lesson by Tracie D'Angelo

Sneaky details can really add to your writing and make it more readable.


     Writing is all about portraying images in the reader's mind. It's like painting with words. To truly get your story across you need to describe feelings, settings, characters and places. Just like everything else, there's a way of doing it to keep the flow and keep your reader's attention.
     Writing a book can be one of the hardest things to do because you have to over-saturate your writing with detail. Too little detail and your reader becomes confused. Too much detail and your reader becomes bored. Think of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath ~ the turtle chapter collapsed my attention span real quick! This is what makes writers though. Many people are creative. That's the easy part. The hard part is getting it all down on paper (or computer screen) in such a way people will want to keep reading. It's funny ~ my husband doesn't read much because the details frustrate him. He's an engineer and deals with technical writing so the detail in fiction drives him nutty.
     Straight detail is generally forgettable and boring. There are times when its necessary though. Let's look at when its not necessary first. You don't ALWAYS have to describe someone completely the moment they enter the scene. A few up-front details are good, but sneak in others. 

     Tina had medium length, brown hair.

     Hair, eye color and other personal characteristics are very easy to work into the flow of writing. Coming right out and saying Tom had blue eyes or Sadie was short can sometimes jar a reader and break their flow. Try to hide your details like moms have hid their kids' medicine in peanut butter for years! It just goes down better!

     As Tina crossed the road, her brown hair caught the wind and splayed like a spider's web above her     

     ...Tom's blue eyes glistened with tears...

     Sadie's short stature made it easier for her to enter the boat's cabin.

     There are those times when you need to just come on out and describe something. Pay close attention to how this is done. If you just start listing things your reader will start drifting off. Give them some meat to sink their teeth into. Give them something familiar to help form that image. A great example is an empty room in an old manor.

     The floor was wooden. There was an old piano in the back to the right. On the far left sat a chair covered with a white sheet. Heavy drapes covered the windows, but they were partially opened which allowed some sun to shine through.

     Okay, so there was a lot of detail, but it lacked some life and interest. Let's put in some sneaky details and make this room a little more interesting.

     The floor was a dark wood, but was lightened by the years of dust that had accumulated. There were faint traces of what looked like tiny feet that probably came from generations of mice which had called this old room their home. A stately grand piano sat to the back. It's keys were now silenced as dust lay where fingertips had once skillfully caressed the keys of ivory. On the other side of the room sat the only piece of furniture. A single, tall-backed chair draped in a yellowing, white sheet sat opposite the piano. I imagined that it was probably a lost ancestor to an ornate dining room set that had been moved out years ago and left this one chair rejected and alone. Dark drapes hung over the large, floor-to-ceiling windows yet parted a bit in the middle to allow a single beam of sunlight to peer though and play in the dust that meandered aimlessly through the stale air.

     Hopefully, you could tell the difference between the paragraphs. The first definitely got the message across, but the details in the second provided an atmosphere and a few musings. Without saying "Hey, this room is old, dusty and stale" the message was quietly delivered. This is my favorite part of writing! Making ideas and images flow is like a challenge to me and there's ntohing better than writing a paragraph then reading it over and saying "Wow! That's good!". One of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, is so gifted in writing with such amazing eloquence. You have to read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux. They are both amazing books!

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Added on July 10, 2010
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Tracie D'Angelo
Tracie D'Angelo

Annapolis, MD

I'm a 45 year old mom of 2 teens in Maryland (US). I work as an asst. librarian at our local elementary school. I also review books and write the blog for a local book store. I've just revamped my own..