Checking the Details

“Use Grammarly to check for plagiarism because yo mama didn’t raise no cheater!”

My Mama didn’t raise a cheater, either, but it is so easy to clip and snip online, sometimes I lose track of exactly whose words my snippets came from.

In less than a minute, Grammarly’s grammar and plagiarism checker scans my text for plagiarism, grammatical mistakes, and spelling errors, offering solutions and in-depth explanations to help improve my writing.

Grammarly is one of the many online sites that offer help with our writing that would have seemed miraculous only a few short years ago.  In an instant you can find a site to tell you what women wore in 1919, what the most popular names were for girls born in 1935, or what kind of car was considered cool in 1952. Online sites can help you get your factual details straight and suggest better placement for all those commas that keep cropping up.

But what about those other details? The details that bring a scene to life for the reader.

About a hundred years ago (more or less) I used to try to write poetry. After writing and scrapping several wastebaskets full of crapola, I began to study the poems I liked and make lists of what they had in common. One thing stood out: Details.  Original details.

Specific details early in the piece give readers a place to stand, a reference point to experience the rest of the story. Although most people go through life without consciously noticing details, writers must observe the details.

swingsIncluding specific details will improve any kind of writing, not just poetry, but use details that advance the idea. Don’t use details just to use details. For instance, if I want to convey the loneliness of a school playground abandoned after a shooting, I might mention an empty swing  swaying in the breeze. I won’t mention exactly how many swings or what brand, because those details don’t describe the loneliness I want the reader to feel.

Mix your details carefully. Put them in some sort of order. Generally, unless for some kind of effect, the order will be how the eye sees them, such as along the street, from high to low. Don’t make the reader jump around.

It is essential to include details from more than one sense.

Include  details on hearing, texture, or smell.  Remember, the sense of smell is the most primitive,and often invokes the strongest emotion.

When you use details in your writing, you show not tell. You have no choice. Details let the reader experience and thus connect to the story.

One Comment

  1. Svetlana Grobman February 25, 2014 9:28 pm Reply

    This is a very helpful post, Carolyn.
    Thanks!

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