3 Ways Details Make a Difference

Nocturnal hallway lit by my flash.

I just met another deadline and have been getting ready to work on fiction again. Nonfiction is my natural writing fit but I have so many fiction ideas.

Okay, that’s not true. I do have a lot of fiction ideas. But I have to keep reminding myself that while I think of nonfiction as a natural fit, I had to learn to write it. My first lesson – how to hook the reader.

I have some idea how to do that in fiction but this weekend a lesson fell into my lap. This particular lesson was on details, specifically setting details. Take a look at two photos of the same hallway.

The top photo is the hallway at the lodge where we spent the weekend. The light doesn’t extend all the way to the end so something could be hiding down there. So it is a little creepy but not too bad.

Hallway from Hell

If only this is how it normally looked. During the day, the lights are on and it just looks like a hallway with green carpet (ugh) and white walls. But at night? At night it is normally lit only by the exit signs.

Totally different atmosphere. Creepy, scary and, I have to admit, I hate getting up at night to make the trip to the bathroom. Hate it! And all that has changed is the color of the light. Details make a huge difference in setting.

And setting isn’t the only area impacted by the details in your story. Details can also be used to forshadow upcoming events.

If the character thinks that the red light looks like blood . . . firelight . . . or rage, it could suggest something that is coming later in the story.

The same can be true of other types of detail. What a character carries in her backpack or purse could later provide a clue as to a murder weapon or a missing item grabbed from a museum. It could reveal who she really is and how she may have lied about herself if she claims not to have a dog but has a spare leash in her bag or says she is vegetarian but has an open package of jerky.

Which leads us to the last area I want to discuss. Details can also reveal things about your character. What would a dancer carry in her bag vs what a yoga teacher would carry? A scout working on a swimming badge would carry different things than a scout working on a first aid badge.

Setting, forshadowing and character can all be shaped by the details you describe in your stories. And, now it is time for me to get to work on chapter 3.


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