Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Tears are in the Details (and the Devil's in them, too)

Many writers think of details as window dressing, a way to embellish the scene they are describing. Painting with words is an excellent way to make a scene vibrant, particularly if the writer takes the time to be specific. So, you can describe the sky as ‘peerless blue’ or a flower as a ‘red geranium.’

If you are only using details to describe scenes, though, you’re missing an important opportunity to pull at the emotion embedded in the scene. In my last Vineyard blog, I mentioned (a little tongue in cheek) that I was a ‘method writer’; that , like a method actor, I try to imagine what the character experiences through the filter of his or her feelings.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Common
I can take this one step further, by filtering the details of the scene through the emotion that shades whatever is happening in the story. This can go a long way towards evoking emotion.

Let’s take the red geraniums I mentioned earlier. If I’m describing a scene, I might say “there were red geraniums in all the window boxes.” It works well in giving a visual to the scene. If I’m trying to get an emotion, though, I can zero in on this detail and make it more evocative.  If the character has fallen in love, for example, I might try to convey happiness in my description—“bright red geraniums burst from all the window boxes.” If  I want to convey a somber mood, I can alter the detail—“the geraniums were rusted along the edges, wilted petals littered the bottom of the window boxes.”

You can pick and choose details to tell a story in a certain way. Let’s say there’s a scene in bar. If I’m working for a sense of despair, I might note the scratched oak floor, the way the place smells of stale beer. If I’m going for comedy, I might note the deer head over the bar, wearing sunglasses and a party hat. If I’m nostalgic, my character might remember how the bar used to be packed to capacity on Saturday night, the band playing until last call was announced.

Do you think about the details you chose? Do you use them to evoke emotions?

'Til next time

All Things Returned,
The third book in the Anton and Lenora series
Comes to Champagne Books on April 7!


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I have just the sunglasses for your deer. The best thing we do for our readers is give them strong visual cues to escape the same lives we are escaping...sigh.

But seriously, folks, Ute is right, the use of color and the condition of the architecture are great clues to convey feelings, thereby quickening a a reader to a participant, not just a watcher.

Big Mike said...

Agreed. I used to do a workshop and I suggested details can be a double edge sword. Like the three bears, too little doesn't pull you into the story. too much turns off the audience, has to be just right.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Ute Carbone said...

Oh, Julie, I can just imagine those sunglasses, LOL.
Double edged sword is a great way to put it, Mike.