Whether writing fiction or non-fiction it’s very important to be specific.
The addition of detail works on many levels. On the most basic level it provides something sensory for the readers to engage with; it also tells us something about the character (a man wearing an Italian worsted wool suit, for example, is going to be very different from one who wears a cheap polyester one); thirdly, details can also be metaphors enabling me to mirror the characters’s emotions without being too explicit.
For example, rather than writing:
Brian and Sarah sat under a tree and were sad.
I would write something like:
Brian and Sarah sheltered beneath a willow, its weeping arms touched his as she cried against his shoulder.
Or if my characters are in a more jubilant mood, I would perhaps choose an oak, which is often seen as majestic:
Brian and Sarah pressed themselves up against the old oak, its outstretched arms touched the sun as they kissed.
Details rarely come through on the first draft, often my mind is moving too quickly to think of, or bother about these things. So I normally look to add detail during the second or third re-drafts.
In my recent Christmas story, I described a list of presents the family were exchanging between themselves. The original draft was very insipid compared to the final version.
The original version listed things like: a pipe, perfume, some earrings, a cookery book, a CD which didn’t really tell me anything. But after a couple of drafts and thinking what kind of people they were (and after much Googling), these became: a half-bent briar pipe, a bottle of Curious by Britney Spears, a pair of cubic zirconia earrings, a Mary Berry Baking Bible, a Best British Rom-Com Movie Songs in the World Ever! CD (the last one was made up by the way). I hope you’ll agree it makes things more interesting to read and gives some insight into the characters rather than getting in the way.
But detail can sometimes get in the way. If used gratuitously it will seem clunky and out of place. In my recent, Dan Brown inspired parody (sorry Dan Brown fans), I deliberately added unnecessary detail for comedic effect. Sometimes it’s about knowing where to draw the line.
Simon walked down the street listening to music.
Could easily become overloaded with unnecessary detail:
Simon dragged his white Adidas Superstar trainers along the edge of the new pavement and listened to Jay-Z on his new Jet Black iPhone 7.
Sometimes it’s about deciding what’s important and finding a middle-ground:
Simon kicked up new asphalt as he walked, drumming in time to Jay-Z as the black lines on his Adidas crossed the white lines on the road.
So whether writing fiction or non-fiction always be specific. In the same way a painter adds light and shade to give the illusion of dimensionality, specific descriptions will bring writing alive and engage the reader’s imagination.
So red Mercedes not car; her dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice not book; the limping black Labrador not dog; his worn straw fedora not hat; half-chewed biro not pen; his black brogue not shoe; willow not tree.
In response to daily prompt: Tree