Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Picture the Details

Details that bring a novel to life can be tricky to write when you aren’t sure of the setting. Sometimes we as writers may know the general setting, but are still fuzzy on the bits and pieces; the heavy oak door that takes a child’s two hands to push it open because it is so heavy or the slimy moss that gets stuck between the characters toes when they wade into the pond.

I recently read Matthew J. Kirby’s Clockwork Three and was impressed with what I could visualize in the pages of the story and feel of the character's plights. I wouldn’t have noticed the words themselves if I hadn’t been paying attention because they were crafted so well. But the details sucked me into that world and let me see it, as the action reeled me forward through the book.

How do you create those kinds of details?

One scene in my novel involves two boys traveling down a cave-like tunnel. They climb over a boulder, wade through an underground river and make a story-changing discovery. It’s an exciting scene and the details were mostly formed from information researched about caves and underground rivers.

A couple weeks ago I walked through Timpanogos Cave for the first time in my life and realized how much I was missing in my scene with these two boys. Bending and twisting around cave formations to get to the next open area, I couldn’t help but picture these two boys on their own adventure. We heard stories and observed crevices and tunnels that had my mind reeling with ideas for how to make my character’s exploration even more exciting.

It doesn’t make research any less important. But finding a way to see a situation, or experience it, can open your mind to the possibilities. Re-writing my scene will bring details that will intensify the situation I was trying to create with these boys. They will be dodging more stalagmites and wondering about the small tunnel they can't quite fit into. Experiencing Timpanogos will make this scene stronger in the end. Maybe we as writers cannot experience everything our characters do, but it’s worth looking for the opportunity to experience what we can.

We may still have to make up the rest.

What tricks do you have for experiencing life as your character sees it


  1. I wonder if writing down day to day events, would help give you more imagery to work with. Take this morning for instance, I was out for a walk at 6:30 and here's what came to mind as I looked at the sky. "A crescent moon played peekaboo with me as I slogged up the hill this dimly lit morning." I wanted to journal that thought. What do you suppose was happening with the moon? Did I express this well enough to give you a clear picture? Did the word "slogging" bring any picture to mind? Although I'm not a writer, I am trying to learn to be more expressive in my journal writing so it isn't just a laundry list of things I did for the day. Anyhew.... I try to look for ways to make my little daily "events" more interesting. How do you think I did, and was this any help? I am guessing you already do this sort of thought writing though. :-)

  2. I love it. I have a vivid picture in my mind from your description. I love playing with words this way in my journal or whatever else I am working on. I do take notes of impressions like this. Sometimes they even make it into my novel in one form or another.