Details That Show- So You Don't Have To Tell


Blah Blah.

Blah Blah Blah.

That’s what most clothing looks like to me.

Any top is going to have a neck-hole and two sleeves, and any skirt will have a hole on top and bottom.

So ye, blah to most clothing.

Except for the ones that do it right, that take the standard and give it a memorable twist.

The asymmetrical hem, the squared neckline, the contrast stitching at the seam, the smocking at the waistline.

It’s the fine details that makes an article of clothing go from meh to marvelous.

Guess what, it’s the same with writing.

It’s so easy to write and grab at the cues that we all know and expect.

Every kitchen will have appliances, a sink, table and chairs.

Every office will have a desk.

Every playground will have swings.

It’s practical I get it - the reader knows where the character is. But a description can and should do so much more than just orient the reader.

Just like I will deliberate what to wear on the first day of school, because I know my students will make assumptions about me based off of it, and rip it apart in discussion trying to figure what it means, when I write a story/character/location I want my readers to have that same experience --to learn more than surface deep just based off of a few details.

Think about it, what is the difference between someone who only wears pencil skirts versus someone who is always found in pheasant skirts?

What type of person closes their top button, what kind of person unbuttons the collar button on an Oxford shirt?

Who only wears Navy, and who will never buy black?

These small details clue the reader into so much more than just the environment.

Also consider the POV of who is noticing these details and what does it reveal about them that they noticed?

Going back to my first day of teaching, what will a student notice versus a fellow teacher? And what does it say about them?

My students noticed my snake print mustard yellow flats. I saw them looking at them when I stood on the side of the desk.

A fellow teacher commented on my face shield, “You’re the only one that looks normal.”

My students care for fashion and fun, my co-teacher is feeling insecure.

And what does it say about me that I am fashionable and normal looking in protective equipment (modest too, I know.)

Our mind makes these quick judgments and assessments. We understand things intuitively a lot faster than we can comprehend them consciously.

We can glance at a person and know in a nano-second “Nerd”, “Costume Jewelry” “Snob”

When asked how we know we aren’t totally sure, it’s our gut, but if you pay close attention there are markers that our subconscious picks up on, whether it’s ungroomed eyebrows, thick links, or perfect posture.

(to read more about how we do this, read Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book “Blink”. [disclaimer I receive a teeny tiny commission if you purchase through my link})

When you write, you want to tap into the subconscious of your reader and give them the cues to understand your characters and their environment in a way that it’ll be intuitive and you don’t have explain away and risk telling.

The carefully chosen detail is the perfect show.

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