Be specific. It's something I've heard again and again from successful writers, and it's been the single most effective tip in trying to improve my writing over the past few years. When you're specific with your writing, a string of helpful, healthy habits tends to follow. By zeroing in on interesting details, you'll often end up with more imagery, a fuller story, plus a more well-rounded character, setting, or message. In brainstorming, your mind may tend to think in big-picture plots and big ideas, but in my experience, the most engaging, surprising writing comes from focusing on the specifics. Let the smaller details imply those big, overarching themes. No need to spell it out. Trust the reader.
Still, everything in moderation, though, right? You want to dig into the details, but that doesn't mean you need to go nuts with adjectives and adverbs, and that doesn't mean that every part of every story needs to be fleshed out in full detail. What it does mean is that you should always try to sift through your thoughts and unearth the particulars, if only for your own knowledge, and if only to better understand the story you're trying to tell. Here's what I mean...
A. Her apartment was messy, and her clothes were strewn along the hallway.
B. A mountain of silk blouses sat in the corner, one in every color, and piles of jewelry dotted her dresser, her nightstand, her sink, her floor — gold, silver, and bronze pieces, the sorts of pieces you could tell had been shiny once, maybe even beautiful.
In the first sentence, we get the point: There's a woman, and her apartment is messy. But in the second sentence, we learn something about the woman through the details of her space. We learn that she's a woman who buys expensive shirts, who collects jewelry, who lets her pricy pieces pile up and turn dull. I turned to imagery for this example, but you could do the same thing by bringing more details into dialogue or description. The point is: Think small. Narrow it down.
When it comes to putting this tip into practice, know that you don't need to stress over every detail from every sentence in every paragraph. Be choosy. Edit what needs to be edited. Read your work aloud and pick out the duller sentences — the ones that seem strange, clunky, unnecessary, whatever — and swap in some interesting specifics to follow the whole show, don't tell theory.
Prompt: Think of a person you know very well (or make up a fictional character) and capture just a slice of who they are by focusing on details in dialogue, description, or imagery.
When she laughs, she rocks and puts one hand to her chest, reaching with the other for a nearby seat or table to steady herself. It's the same way she cries, too: rocking, reaching, steadying. She laughs more than she cries.
Over the weekend, she likes her hair hanging loose and her bed freshly made, and although she'd never say so, she's first to forgive. Unless it's a Monday. She doesn't like to forgive on Mondays.
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