Writing and detail

How do you write your descriptions? How to you remember the little details that are oft forgotten and fall by the wayside of our memories? How do you bring a moment to life exactly as it was as you were going through it? Above all, how do you get your memories to lie like truth? How do you create moments that make us remember things that were yet were not to lead us to our make believe worlds as though we were in them with the clarity of a memory?

For sure, even before the writer taps into the power of memory she has to be an observer. She has to live outside of herself, forget herself so to speak as the center of the world and give up control of that which is chaotic and directionless.

The moment a would-be author tries to exert an order on her surroundings, organize the world, filter impressions as they seep in through the senses or wish things were different, she ceases to be a disinterested observer. Perhaps this level of non-involvement is a fantasy in itself, but anyone who is judgmental, self-absorbed or too sure of how things should be misses out on a myriad details necessary to remember a moment. Ironic that preferential memory is great for perspective creation within a work but is limiting for the author herself.

Those details  that the writer collects indiscriminately like sea shells from a boundless beach make the writer a better archivist of memory than most. Yet, at this stage, the writer is simply a recorder, a collector, even a guard of the great library of moments who roams about the corridors of a great collection in wonder without quite understanding why they are there or what their significance is or why they have made an impression.

The details  do make an impression on an author. Yet, he who is a writer has to stop weighing details as they colour the collage of his memory as big ones or small ones, important ones or insignificant trivialities, as drivers of the moment or as background noise. He the author cannot be afraid of being passive, of being insipid, of being the wallflower, of being colourless as he observes so that his imagination can have all the more colour when he chooses to create his world.

The time to be the driver, the doer comes soon enough when those details are put together. That is when the writer-as-creator wields absolute power as she decides where and how to put the details with what levels of significance.

Yet, the writer cannot build if she holds on to her power. She has to build with benevolence shielding her omnipotence from the reader who wanders into her territory. She knows that a single perspective does not make for a comfortable world. The reader has to live in it too. So she fleshes out her memory of the moment with the little details as best as she can, making the make-believe as real as possible and leaves the significance to the reader.

This is because worlds, once created, have no significance. They just exist.

25 thoughts on “Writing and detail”

  1. I only write big descriptions for the most significant parts. Details shouldn’t be big part of the text as they are usually boring to the readers who want to see how the story progresses. For me, describing and expressing the feelings are much more important than describing the places.


  2. I feel description is in large part the province of an informed imagination. Where experience and unbiased observation become important is in characterization emotional content.


  3. Writing from the heart has been my motto. Putting the heart into active language and making it flow for the reader to grasp the attention is mind blowing! I have taken the summer mostly off but can not wait to share of my summer mishaps! Great writing my dear!


  4. Hmmm… “She has to live outside of herself, forget herself so to speak as the center of the world and give up control of that which is chaotic and directionless.” I say it depends on the genre. In memoir, memory is filtered through how I perceived it. Call me self-centered, but for me, description is most interesting when it conveys the state of mind (or emotions) of the author. I would say I feel that way whether I am reading or writing; maybe it’s a personality thing, but I don’t have lots of patience for overly descriptive writers who don’t tie the description to their own psychology (or maybe this is a side effect of becoming a memoir writer).


  5. Creating a world and knowing when subtlety is important–a hard thing to do, in my opinion. But everyone has their moments. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi had a lot of description, but there was also a lot left out so that readers and characters could keep guessing. Dashiell Hammett used certain words for readers to connect both something or someone with another thing. It’s not spot-on with description, but it’s effective in his P.I. Marlowe series. For aspiring writers like myself, I think it’s just a matter of time, practice, and studies that’ll get to the point where subtlety and description will meet appropriately.


  6. I think the key to authentic descriptions – and this is true for non-fiction and fiction alike – is to know what to leave out. To have all the subtleties and experiences that create the fuller experience; not to labour them or spell them out one by one – but to let them speak, quietly, beneath the surface with a choice of a few words that reveal the authenticity of the experience without clutter.


  7. I try to put as much detail as I can, but I always worry about getting too fluffy with it. Fluffy language and descriptions just seems like a stroke of death when it comes to writing, at least from what I’ve read.

    I agree about observation. Observing people and some situations is very important, especially when personal experience isn’t always enough to recreate scenarios and emotions.


  8. This is so true. One cannot be timid when writing. You have to create a world that is believable. People it with characters that live and breathe in this world. The plot has to be plausible, as well as, engaging in order to draw the reader in. If the writer does not put his creative heart and soul into it, the world will be flat. The characters will never come to life, either. What a challenge it is to get everything right! 🙂


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