It's All in the Details
Kevin Powers, from The Yellow Bird
It is "truer than true" that reading makes you a better writer. I just finished The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, a first time novelist, and was blown away by his writing. He was able to communicate the horrors of war more clearly than perhaps I wanted to know, but with dead-on in-your-face sickeningly specific details. This got me to thinking about other favorite authors of mine and their amazing ability to let you see a character or a situation instantly with just the right words; those specific details:
"...and then a dented blue Cadillac, driven slowly by a dignified old gentleman in a bow tie the same blue as his car."
"The menu was a multi-page laminated thing almost as big as the tabletop."
"Mr. Lamb's car was a dull-green Maverick with one orange fender and a coat hanger antenna."
"Ian...was tearing down the sidewalk on his tricycle with a miniature license plate from a cereal box wired to the handlebars."
"The grocery smelled of store bread and waxed paper."
"They had to rush through breakfast with faucet coffee and cold cereal."
"Rosemary tossed something into the red plastic tote. Women like Rosemary never purchased their groceries by the cartload."
"A duck with its head drawn deep inside its plumage drifted across the pitch-black surface of the lake."
"There was a thin, shrill tone of horror in his voice that she couldn't recall hearing since he was a little boy jammed between them on the sofa in front of the TV with his hands over his eyes."
"His collarbone stood out under his skin like a clothes hanger."
"He worked in a butcher's shop for a Mr Malone, who was the most decent man ever to wear shoe leather."
"She refused a sherry or glass of wine, asking instead for a glass of plain tonic water with ice and lemon."
"...and when he was sixteen he got his first job working in a sandwich bar. Corry soon caught everyone's eye...it was the way he remembered who liked peanut butte and who liked low fat cheese..."
These are just a few of my favorites, though I could have gone on and on. I am sure our blog readers out there could add many, many more.
As with any skill, I know that perfecting writing is done with practice, practice, practice. But I also feel that when you read great writing, it also engenders a sensitivity and mindset for these things. As has been said before in our blog, observation and attention to detail are critical. So I guess we have to just keep reading, writing and noticing- what was that one detail that jumped out and grabbed us?
Submitted by Andrea Perry