The Painstaking Process of Producing Details

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From America’s Best Newspaper Writing:

“Good writers, like the ones included in this collection, use telling details to help us see, hear and understand” (Clark and Scanlon 296).

I have to admit that I am a little dense sometimes.  I have to hear some things several times before I can understand them or fully grasp their weight.  This is certainly true of the statement above.  We’ve run across sentences stressing the importance of details and read stories with really good details.  However, the true importance of these details didn’t really click for me until right now.  As we said in Literary Criticism, this may just be my “Aha moment.”

Although the details can sometimes seem like too much information, the writer has to keep in mind that she is reporting something to a person who wasn’t there.  The reader of your article is reading to find out more about the story, including the little details.  It is the writer’s job to transport the reader from his kitchen table, coffee in hand, to the scene of the crime or the site of the protest.  Therefore, each little detail helps paint a mental picture for the reader, revealing exactly what went on.  A great example of this is found on page 297 of the text: “A hard object was pressed to the back of her skull, just below her right ear, next to her hair ribbon.”  Instead of just coming out and saying, “The accused pulled out his gun and pointed it at the officer,” Anne Hull takes the time to describe the situation as the police officer would have perceived it.  Words like “hard,” “back of her skull,” “below her right ear,” “next to her hair ribbon” paint a brilliant picture for the reader.  By Hull’s description I can envision the attack and point to the exact spot on my head where the gun was on Lisa’s.  Now that’s talent.  I’m not so sure about the whole police officer wearing a ribbon thing though.

Another example of an amazing use of details that I could not ignore was from Rick Bragg’s piece: “She spent almost nothing, living in her old family home, cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit right and binding her ragged Bible with Scotch tape to keep Corinthians from falling out” (31).  Bragg does not say, “The religious lady was poor.”  Instead he painstakingly shows us just how poor she was.  But he doesn’t even stop there!  He delivers the details right down to the book of the Bible that was falling out! 

After really realizing the importance of detail I think that I can begin to show more and tell less in my articles and maybe, if I’m lucky, my English papers, too.

My reflection on Josie's blog

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1 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Detail is incredibly important. As I pointed out in my blog on Cox (http://blogs.setonhill.edu/GretaCarroll/2009/09/the_story_is_in_the_details.html) , the details are what bring the story home to the reader. I really think that details are probably what make the difference between a good story and a great story. Without the details, it’s easy for the story and people just to seem too removed from reality to affect the audience. It’s the same reason Nicholson’s obituary was so touching—he took the time to include little details.

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