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How to Write the Details in a Story


Crafting details into your story is a skill many writers work hard to master. The old adage "show don't tell" is often quoted, but not always understood. Details help you create, or show, everything from your story's setting to character descriptions to character feelings. To create unique and descriptive details you need keen observation skills and an attention to all five of the senses. If you include details of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste in your writing you are well on your way to crafting a story filled with good details.

Keep a notebook with you at all times to record interesting and unique descriptions that occur to you in your daily life. You might not know whether or not a certain observation will end up as a detail in your story, but keeping a notebook of descriptions will help you practice the art of observing your surroundings for possible story details. Record the way a woman in the grocery story wears her hair in a particular style or the unusual gait of an elderly person crossing the street. All of these details might be useful as you write.

Work with the five senses. Stories should include details that touch on all five senses. When describing a character, for example, you can include details about the smell of his cologne and the sound he makes when he laughs. You do not need to use all five senses in every piece of detail, but challenge yourself to weave all the senses into a complete story. Writers often forget about smell and sound, though you are surrounded by odors and noises all day. Remember that your characters live in a world full of sounds and smells. Incorporate those senses into your story to create a more descriptive setting.

Avoid telling a reader how a character feels. Instead of writing that a character is angry, show how she clenches her fists and stomps her feet. Your reader will understand the character is angry through the details you use to describe her demeanor. In many cases, writing descriptive details requires you to slow down as a you write and spend adequate time imagining all the elements of a certain scene that will make it come to life for the reader.

Use metaphor to compare elements of your story to images that might seem unrelated, but nonetheless evoke connections for the reader. For example, the ash flying away from a fire could be compared to white butterflies fleeing the flames. Imagining ash as white butterflies provides the reader with a unique detail that will capture his imagination and enhance his reading of your story.

Tip
  • Select details for your story that are important to the plot or character development. Particularly when writing a short story, each detail must contribute to the overall story. If you spend a couple of sentences describing how a character always wears a certain sweater on Tuesdays that detail must be important to the larger story plot.
About the Author

Erika Sanders has been writing since 1997. She teaches writing at the Washington State Reformatory and edits the monthly newsletter for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, a national nonprofit organization. She received her Master of Fine Arts in fiction from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College in Boston.

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