The Right Details Tell Us a Lot

phoneToday my son answered the phone and very quickly hung up again.  I couldn’t hear what had been said but he hates talking on the phone.  Who had he dispatched so quickly?

When I asked, he shrugged.  “Don’t know.  It was some kind of boring grown up stuff.  Don’t worry.  He asked for Dad.”

“How did you know it was boring grown up stuff?”

“He used Dad’s first name.  The whole thing.”

Bingo.  Boring grown up stuff.  Boring enough that not even the grown ups want to deal with it.  But it is also shows how writers can use appropriate detail to set a situation up.  How a caller asks for someone tells us who it is — or isn’t.   When the phone rings at 2 am, you know there are limited possibilities as far as who might be calling and about what.

When you choose the detail for your own stories, are you as careful.  Or do you just throw in a laundry basket of detail, describing a place or person without adding to the plot tension or characterization in any way?