One thing that I notice that many beginners in writing do is that they tend to make lists of details. For example, you may have seen sentences that sound like this: “Our winters forced us to keep a simple diet of carrots, cabbage, and rabbit served in a watery stew.” The problem with these kinds of details is that they are not being introduced in an organic manner. While it may be the most concise way to do it, writers are in the business of crafting fiction, not writing police reports. I always ask myself, why are reading about these details? I believe that it is a vestigial part of the writing process: we writers must create something from nothing, and oftentimes we leave in these details without first polishing then.
My method of incorporating details involves the use of characters and the use of relative detail. For me, I find it best to introduce details through actions. If one wishes to tell the reader that someone’s diet consists of a spare stew of carrots, cabbage, and rabbit, then one might write something like this:
The winter was miserly with its gifts, and I had to uproot the carrots before the frost turned them brittle. By the time I finished with that, my hands were shivering enough to make the simple act of chopping cabbage an exercise in keeping my digits intact. Skinning the rabbit and quartering it was no easier: I nearly sliced a groove into the palm of my hand. It would have been a noble sacrifice for my family though, as there are no other ways for a woman to draw blood in the name of her family.
Note that the details of the diet are not explicitly told to the reader. We can easily infer it though, because we see that they are all a part of preparing the stew. The passage can also be used to tell us something about the character who is narrating it.
Then, there’s what I call relative details. Sometimes, you’ll come across a sentence like this: “It was 102 degrees,” or “She tipped him a hundred dollars.” These are absolutes. They tell me nothing about the weather or the value of the currency that was given. Instead of using absolutes, use something that is more relative and relevant. If it is 102 degrees, you can tell the reader, “The sun tarred the 542 backs bent in the fields of Chesterville, imprinting dark heavy patches of sweat on their plaid shirts that refused to dry.” This gives us a the impression that is hot. When we are told that it is 102 degrees, we have no information about how that affects anyone.
And that’s that for now. Those are my two tips for the week.