Details, Details, Details!

Details create emotion —the physical setting, the physical sensations, the choice of words, the paragraph length and flow all contribute to the emotion displayed on the page. Short, choppy sentences tend to create tension (our breath is coming fast, as if we are running). Long, flowing paragraphs with an abundance of detail, slow the movement down and give the reader a rest.

Here are some of the things you might consider adding to your work:

  1. Physical setting (riding in the car, watching the night flash by outside the grimy window).
  2. Use of the five senses—sound, feeling, smell, taste, and sight.
  3. Physical sensations—the rocking of a train causing nausea or the cold air coming through the car window onto your cheek.
  4. Word choice.  Use the best descriptive words—screech, whisper, rush of air.
  5. Paragraph flow and length. Use clauses, commas, periods to give the impression of movement and jerkiness in your work if that is the mood you wish to convey. Use everything you can to make your work come alive.

When writing detail, remember the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen impacts the reader much more than the cooking utensils she uses. How could you write about your grandma’s cooking without mentioning the great smells?

I have heard it said that each page should mention at least four senses. That might be overkill, but one or two should certainly be attempted. Go back through the last piece you wrote and try to layer in smells, sounds, feelings, taste and sight. Have your character stop for a moment and look out the window, noticing the barking dog on the street outside. Add the smell of lavender as she pulls a clean shirt from the closet. I think you will be glad you did.


  1. Char Donovan
    May 2, 2013

    Thanks, Angela for your comments about details. Good writers always amaze me with the specific details they choose to include in their fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. We can never have enough reminders about the importance of the details in helping the reader enter the story by way of these “stepping stones.”

    • affoster22
      May 6, 2013

      Thanks for your comment, Char. So true! Even if we know this stuff, it’s great to have a reminder.

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