Monday, June 8, 2009

Details, Details, Details

“Be specific.” – Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones.
My first job after graduating from library school was as a reference librarian in the University of Buffalo's Science and Engineering Library. One day a young man approached the reference desk and told me he needed information on diamonds. I spent fifteen minutes asking questions and, based on his answers, showing him various sources, none of which contained the information he wanted. Finally, he told me he was looking for a history of the Hope diamond. I repressed a smile -- and the desire to strangle him -- and politely told him he was in the wrong library. He needed to go to the Undergraduate Library and look in a general encyclopedia. If he'd provided the specific details from the start, I would've had a clearer idea of his information need.

As a writer, I try to provide specific details. “Morgan got out of his truck” gives the reader a vague view of Morgan and his truck. “Morgan slid out of his rusted Ford F150 and grabbed an axe out of the bed” provides a clearer picture. My first drafts may include references to trees and flowers, but by the final version I provide details like the kinds of trees and the colors of the flowers. Being specific not only gives my readers a clearer idea of the scene, it helps me get deeper into the story.

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