Lesson 2: Details
The second aspect of voice in fiction is detail. Detail means the description of an individual feature, fact, or item. Details are part of painting the fictional world. Without them, it’s difficult for readers to imagine the story you’re telling.
When you write a story, you are writing from the perspective of a character. Again, you are not writing from your own perspective (mostly). What details you choose to reveal as part of setting or description will say a lot about your character’s perception. An adult might notice the ornate brass railing in an old ice cream shop, but a teen might notice that Sally Davis, the popular girl, is sitting at a table in the corner eating a triple hot fudge sundae.
It’s the details that help bring a character to life.
Take for example, this sentence:
“Whenever he was so fortunate as to have near him a hare that had been kept too long, or a meat pie made with rancid butter, he gorged himself with such violence that his veins swelled, and the moisture broke out on his forehead.”
~Thomas Babington Macaulay
What details stick out to you? What effect do the words spoiled hare, rancid butter, violence, moisture breaking out on his forehead have on the image that the sentence creates?
They paint the picture that this character has some gross eating habits and, perhaps, that he might eat anything.
What if the sentence had just said, “He ate a spoiled meat pie hungrily”?
You wouldn’t get quite the same image, would you? The words gorged with such violence that his veins swelled and the moisture broke out on his forehead are much more vivid and crisp in meaning.
Let’s do another one.
“The dog stood up and growled like a lion, stiff-standing hackles, teeth uncovered as he lashed up his fury for the charge. Tea Cake split the water like an otter, opening his knife as he dived. The dog raced down the backbone of the cow to attack and Janie screamed and slipped far back on the tail of the cow, just out of reach of the dog’s angry jaws.”
~Zora Neale Hurston
What do the details in this paragraph tell you about the dog? What do the details tell you about Tea Cake and Janie? We can see the dog’s viciousness. We see Tea Cake and Janie’s desperation. The scene is vivid.
Details help evoke the story in readers’ minds. Evoking the story will help keep them turning pages.
Write a passage with three to four details about someone eating. Make them vivid!
What will it tell us about what he/she is eating? What will it tell us about how she/he feels about what they are eating? What will it reveal about the character?
Spend a few moments observing someone. Make notes in your journal about what that person is wearing, their mannerisms, their actions and appearance. Remember to use lots of details!
Write as many details as you can about the picture below.