I’ve never taken a writing class so I’m not sure when I learned this trick. Somehow I picked it up over the past decade.
I don’t even know if it’s important to other authors, or if writing instructors teach it.
So maybe this is elementary, but here’s my secret tool:
The way to make your writing interesting is to use details.
Yesterday I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I got excited when I found her encouraging writers to use detail.
She says, “Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else.” She adds, “Be specific. Don’t say ‘fruit.’ Tell what kind of fruit—‘It is a pomegranate.’ Give things the dignity of their names.”
The paragraph below is an example of her writing. Notice how rich it is. Instead of saying, “My friend and I spent some time writing in Greece,” she wrote this:
I am on a Greek island right now: the Aegean Sea, cheap rooms on the beach, nude swimming, little tavernas where you sit under dried bamboo sipping ouzo, taste octopus, watch the great sun set. I am thirty-six and my friend who is with me is thirty-nine. It is the first time either of us has been to Europe. We take in everything, but only halfway because we are busy always, always talking. I tell her about my dance recital when I was six years old in a pink tutu; how my father, who sat in the front row, broke down weeping when he saw me. She tells me how her husband in Catholic school in Nebraska came late for a play that he was the star of and how the nuns had all the school children on their knees praying that he would appear.
Just for fun, I read a few lines from my book Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World to find a paragraph where I had given detail. This is from my chapter on The Benefits of Solitude:
Right now I am alone. Snow is falling silently outside, and the only sound I hear comes from water trickling in my office fountain. Right now I can do whatever I want. I can slurp my split pea soup while taking intermittent bites of a chocolate bar. I can sit on my chair with one leg tucked under in ladylike fashion. I can take a break to let the dog out, and I can sing badly while doing all of the above. These little freedoms are not to be underestimated.
Now that I’ve read Goldberg’s book, I see where I could have been even more detailed.
It’s much more fun to write when you’re giving details.
Take a minute to practice: Write about a favorite meal you had. Make sure you describe the setting, season, and the people you were with.