Lessons Learned: Specifics versus Details

In the movie, The Door in the Floor (based on the novel A Widow for one Year by John Irving), the character played by Jeff Bridges, a writer, instructs a young writer-wannabe on how to use specifics by including his son’s shoe type when describing his death.  Without question, specifics will help bring a story to life.  A widely-understood and, for good reason, a widely-held view.  But sometimes there can be a fine line between specifics that enliven a story and details that weigh it down.  Details that you might call … hmm, let’s see … boring. 

Both my novels are written in the present tense.  Whether it is this or some other cause, but I can get preoccupied with, “Well, if it’s Wednesday and this happened Monday, then what happened Tuesday?” or “Did she have enough time to drive to Hamilton?”  Generally, that type of preoccupation is not bad, particularly when writing something with an element of mystery – most readers won’t tolerate realizing that character X couldn’t possibly have taken the money because they couldn’t possibly have driven to Hamilton in that time.  HOWEVER, just because you as the writer have assured that there was indeed time because character X went on Tuesday and not on Wednesday, telling the reader about an otherwise uneventful Tuesday could fall into the boring detail category no matter how many specifics you stick in there.  For this lesson, I am grateful to Joan Barfoot.

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