Johnny’s back ached. The chair dug into his ribs, pressing, pressing, pressing. He felt it, even his mind ached from the pressure, but he didn’t move. It didn’t matter. So many things didn’t.
He smelled her perfume on the scarf still. They had been able to remove it from the mangled metal. It had her scent, and, at the scarf’s shredded edge, he saw her blood.
The pressure in his back didn’t matter. Nothing mattered…
In his hand on his lap he turned the barrel one more click and drew his thumb back along the trigger.
The above was a little example of “bringing it home” for the reader.
Writers want to get a long project over quickly. We want to have that novel done in a week.
Good writing, really good writing doesn’t happen in a rush. If it did, then everyone misspelling all over Facebook would be good writers.
To write well, we have to accept our experiences as they are and revisit them to reproduce them accurately enough for readers to feel what we felt.
Quite simply, life happens to us, and we are immediately immersed in our senses or the shock of a situation and often don’t realize what just happened.
It’s on great reflection of the events, the experiences, where we own their richness. Where we decipher their details. With sometimes agonizing clarity, we replay the images and sensations, “zoning out” to where the rest of our environment fades away, completely in some cases.
This is the mechanism we writers access in order to be able to reproduce accurate, visceral, rich, dirty, smelly, delicious, sweet, glorious experiences for the reader.
We are daydreamers in the best sense of the word. We are also consistent, hard workers who shut out the world and make sure our dream expresses itself completely on the page.
It’s in the Details – But Not Too Much
“Wow! Jim, this woman walking past me is beautiful!”
With that phrase you get an idea of how someone I’m seeing is affecting me.
“Wow! I’m sorry, Jim, you’ll have to wait a moment. I-I can’t think just yet. This woman walked in front of me and…wow, she took my breath away…I literally forgot what I was going to tell you.”
A little sweeter? We get a little more detail—not on the woman—but on the way the woman affected me. The way this was written also lets us really want to know just what this woman was like to have such an effect on me—at least I desire more information.
With just a few lines we get a sense that I was truly taken aback by the experience of the woman walking in front of me. We might even add that I leaned against the wall, unconscious of the fact that my legs lost some of their strength.
Storytelling, to some degree, is mysterious. Where in life do you instantly know everything about a person or a situation? And when you do start discovering things, or when they are revealed to you, we usually get a lot more information than we think.
Take what you had for breakfast this morning. Let’s say you had coffee and a bagel. Anything on the bagel? Did you have an interesting time cutting it in half or was it precut? Did you make a mess on the counter? Drop little crumbs for your pet perhaps to lick up with a big slurping tongue? Had to clean up the bits the slurping tongue missed? Have to clean up the saliva the tongue smeared all over the floor?
Did the coffee smell good? Did it remind you of anything? Did it make you rub your shoulders in anticipation? Did the steam from the coffee rise up and waft over your face and slip though your hair to where you smelled like coffee for a few hours?
Was there sunlight in the room? Was the air conditioner running? Did the phone ring while you were making it, or a text message come across your screen?
Some of these questions help you realize all the little things that go on around the key points of your life. It isn’t enough that someone slapped you across your face, or even why someone did it. How did the slap feel on your skin? Were there other people around watching? Did it make a sound that stayed with you for a while afterwards? Did the person slapping you have her brows down in anger, or were they up in shock? Was she sweating? Was her moistness drying on your face where the palm slapped you?
These things take time. Experiences take time, if even just a little, and they also take time on reflection. The sensory information available during any particular moment in time is staggering when we think about it. The key is to give relevant information that keeps the story moving along.
In the slap scenario, the information associated with a moist hand hitting the face could be very important if you want to point out that the person was terribly nervous, had worked herself up for an hour or two prior to slapping. That little clue could reveal more about the character without having to say that the person was nervous.
It could also simply mean that the woman had just washed her hands in the bathroom without drying them. Or better yet, a woman who had just discovered that she was pregnant and the man had lied to her about his vasectomy.
Now if an author started the scene with the slap and then went on to reactions and internal musings, only revealing things as we moved through the reading, that would make it interesting as long as it was well-written (grammar, pacing, immersion in the scene). As long as the scene had the little details in it people usually don’t think about, but which make the experience real.
If you love a favorite person visiting you, what makes that person, or the visit, elevate him or her above others in your life? What little things does he or she bring to your experience that make you desire his or her presence?
“She just makes me happy,” is not enough. This person, or what she does to or for you, has a unique interaction with your unique person that makes you feel a specific way. What is it?
Remember this when you are writing. The little details matter in life. They make it rich. They round out an experience and make it real, whether you are writing about a person on a space station or in your own back yard.
And remember: Good writing cannot be rushed. Take your time immersing in the scenes in your head and the feelings they impart. Own them; know all about them, and then it will be easier to relay the important parts to your readers.