The Balance of the Detail

When I created my little award the other day, I sparked an interesting discussion on the role of detail in writing.

So, for the sense of clarity, I’m going to go a little more into detail about what I meant. 😉

I’m not arguing for long, drawn out passages of purple prose that try to paint a picture for the reader that would be better done through a visual. Nor am I arguing for sentences that wrap words around each other in a complex convolution that ultimately has no meaning or does not move the story forward. I’m the first person to skim through those verbose passages as my inner vision never matches the description anyway. I will put down a book that tries so hard to be linguistically beautiful that the author says nothing with a lot of words.

No, the magic details that I referred to are those simple details that bring a story or a passage to life. Those details could be expressed in a few words, but with those few words an entire character/place/emotion comes to life. Those are the details that I want to learn to weave more strongly into my own writing.

I’ve been reading argument paper drafts this morning. One of my students wanted to argue about gay marriage, and why it should be allowed. Now, I obviously support gay marriage, but this particular student’s paper was completely unconvincing. The only argument he used was the fact that in  America “every man is created equal.” He kept repeating this argument throughout the paper, until he threw in a list I’ve seen before of sarcastic arguments about why gay marriage should not be allowed. (He also did not cite the list properly, but that’s a whole different issue).  We all know that our country doesn’t  really practice what it preaches, and gays are not the only ones who suffer because of it. So, without more details, his argument suffered because it wasn’t really an argument, it was a rant.

That’s my problem, rants without support. Rants without details.

As I was thinking about this post this morning (since about 4 am when insomnia struck again) I remembered a poem I wrote a while back that I haven’t really shared. Why? Because this poem came from the details around me, and I think those details support its meaning. It is not perfect, but I thought I would share. I am putting this in as a PDF, since I can never figure out how to make the formatting on my poems work.:


So, to sum it all up, don’t worry that I am going to bore you with long, detailed descriptions of meaningless drivel. My challenge to myself is to learn to  perfect my use of  details, not to abuse them.

Finally I will share with you a couple of images I am stealing borrowing from my brother, because I love the details.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbarann Ayars
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 08:18:50

    You are talking about my mantra: an economy of words. Choosing the best words, but the least number to get it said. The very best ones allow the reader to add those subliminal words not said. Those will be the very words you didn’t say. Madeline L’Engle spoke often about the contract between writer and reader and how both parties contribute to the read. To make it happen, your words must place your reader in lockstep with you on the journey.


  2. nrhatch
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 10:50:42

    Yes! Yes! Yes!
    I give this post 10 thumbs up!

    Extraneous details are detracting.
    An absence of facts to support opinion is fatal to any argument. Or story.

    My favorite line:

    I will put down a book that tries so hard to be linguistically beautiful that the author says nothing with a lot of words.

    Arguments that merely reiterate variations of the phrase “because I said so” are not worth making.

    Write on! With just the right details woven into the mix.


  3. Taochild
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 11:19:57

    Some times the most profund of details can be relayed with but a single word. Take Love for instance! And thanks for the promo again 😀


  4. sparksinshadow
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 17:18:59

    Lisa, what you and previous commenters have said here about the kinds of details you prefer in writing, brings up another related point. It’s great that there are so many writers in the world, because that means there are many stories and books written from all the different personality types, so we can all find writers whose work we can enjoy.

    One problem I’ve always found in the field of literary criticism, is that sometimes a reviewer seems to have a different personality type than the writer, so they are put off by aspects of the work that are actually illuminating to other people. I think that if their personality types are more matched with the specific work, the reviewer would be better able to pick out its truer flaws, where they exist.

    As an example of what I mean (concerning a different kind of art– but I still think it’s a good example to clarify my point): Years ago, my brother brought home a tape of a song he had been working on with a friend, and asked what I thought. I said, I thought it was okay, but that a song usually had a bridge and some kind of chorus. If they worked on that, I thought it could be a pretty good song. He looked at me like I was an idiot, said thanks, and walked away. It turns out that his friend had invented a new form of music called House music. (It’s a famous form, now.) House music doesn’t have a bridge or a chorus. I couldn’t see its merits because I didn’t understand it, even though I enjoy music. I think it works that way with how we percieve writing styles, too.


    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Jun 28, 2011 @ 18:30:44

      That’s very true. And if we all liked the same books, life wouldn’t be quite as interesting.


  5. Melanie
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 23:37:37

    Goodness, we are thinking along the same lines. Must be something in the air (or on the screen?)


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