Good writing depends on good details.
I know that, and as I’m writing, I try to stay cognizant of details, but it’s a struggle.
When I’m starting a story, I find I often run roughshod over important details, and my work lacks the substance that supports a viable tale.
My writing style tends to be terse. I have always written for my own gratification. While that remains my primary goal, I find a great deal of satisfaction sharing my stories with other people. In order to do that, I need to find a way to convey my ideas to the reader.
I joined a critique group and listened carefully to the participants’ comments. I soon realized that the images that seemed so obvious to me were not nearly so clear to others.
“How old is the protagonist?” “Is this contemporary?” “Is the setting rural or big city?”
But I had a very clear picture in my mind of the protagonist which showed she was in her teens. Shouldn’t it be assumed to be contemporary if no other time frame is introduced? And why didn’t they see the narrow trail rising over the rocky outcropping on the way to the remote old mine? I certainly did.
They don’t, of course, because I haven’t included enough details to convey my image.
I find lengthy descriptions can be tedious to read and even more tedious to write, so I tend to avoid them and try to incorporate telling information in the story.
Margery, my teenage protagonist, can slip out of the high school cafeteria on her way to the adventure. She can drive her missing brother’s pickup to a trailhead and pull on her clothing and boots for a hike. While there, she can check her cell phone for coverage, which anchors the tale in the present or not-too-distant past. And she can raise a cloud of dust when she falls as she catches the untied lace of her hiking boots on the edge of a jagged boulder.
That’s not the story itself, but it provides support and context. I go through the first drafts of my stories, adding what I hope will be relevant details to bring it to life.
Equally important is exercising discrimination on what details to use. They need to be relevant, provide information, and move the story along. Otherwise, we have Margery not finishing her tuna fish sandwich; stuffing the plastic sandwich wrapping and a soiled napkin into the crumpled brown lunch bag; ignoring friend’s greetings on her way to toss it into the open overflowing trash bin as she leaves the cafeteria via the wide swinging doors to the long dark hallway with the restrooms smelling of disinfectant; checking the deserted hallway to make sure she is not observed; remembering the security camera but deciding that by the time anyone views the video, she will have long succeeded or failed at her task; slipping out the heavy side exit door with the panic bar and hoping it does not set off an alarm; dredging the key on the teddy bear keychain to the truck from the pocket of her worn jeans; proceeding across the student parking lot which reflects the brutal sun and smells of hot tar and melting asphalt…
Some of these details might be important, but so much is tedious over-description.
How do you find a balance for details in your writing?