Overwhelming those Devils in the Details

I finished reading a novel recently. It was a really detailed novel; the sort of tale that tells exactly what a woman was wearing and why they chose each garment for what intended effect before she left the house this morning, which she did with a longing gaze around each of the rooms she passed through, remembering the appearance and provenance of each item of beloved furniture. Then someone shot her and she died.

The novel qualified as a pretty slow read; probably a frustrating one too. After all, as a reader I invested enough thought to follow those various pages, only to find the character didn’t matter. The scenes were vividly real. Her thoughts rang convincingly true. But I felt side-tracked from a story that continued by following someone else. Perhaps it’s just me.

Still, it reminded me of a writing exercise we did a while ago in our group, so I’ll offer our question of details here, for your reading and writing enjoyment:

table and chair

Brainstorm:

Imagine you’re standing in the doorway to an office. Inside the room is a desk. Behind the desk is a chair. Behind the chair is a window. There might be some shelves or filing cabinets against the wall. What can you see? Make a (clear and detailed) list.

Looking deeper:

Now imagine a character standing there instead of you. Who is he, she or it?

  • frightened girl
  • angry man
  • clever spy
  • controlling daughter
  • add to the list and take your pick.

There’s no one else in this office right now, but give your character a reason to be there:

  • She got a message demanding her presence
  • He’s determined to get his revenge
  • Something’s hidden; she’s going to find it
  • She needs a way to make her dad agree
  • what else?

Rapid Write:

Now write a paragraph in which your character enters the room. Which things do they notice and what do they ignore? Which details matter from your original list? If your character’s too scared or too busy to look out the window, do you really need to describe how tiny the people seem down below, or the color of the curtains?

Have fun.

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