Lately I’ve been reading my students’ writing and giving them ways to make it better. Time and time again, I find myself saying, “More detail! Tell me more!” There are several reasons you want to use details in your writing.
Pull the Reader In
Sensory details help pull your reader in by making your scene real. Most of us use visual details without thinking about it – she wore a pink character tee. But what about touch? Is the t-shirt scratchy or soft? You could also include smell. Is she wearing perfume or an essential oil? Does it smell like flowers or food? Taste is often the hardest sense to include but if you can do it, it will have an impact. Scent and taste often have strong emotional links.
Set the Tone
One of the best ways to set a tone on create a mood is through descriptive detail. Depending on the feel that you are going for, trees can be majestic or the branches can be grasping. Sunlight can be harsh, cheery, or weak. If your scene occurs in an ornamental garden, you can use scent (floral, cut grass, decay), touch (spongy, prickly, or velvet) and even sound (whisper, tinkling, moaning) to help create the mood. It is all in the details you include and the words you use to describe them.
Show, Don’t Tell
Especially when crafting nonfiction, it can be tempting to tell the reader things about a person or situation. “He was happy.” “The general was harsh to his staff.” “Life in the city was harsh.” Any and all of these things can be shown through specific details.
While too much detail can slow your writing down, carefully chosen details pull the reader in and create scenes that show them the world through your eyes and the eyes of your characters. Think about the story, fiction or nonfiction, that you want to tell and then select the details that get the job done.