5 Tips on Using Details:
Use Details to Bring Your Story to Life

by Cheryl Rainfield, the award-winning author of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED, 2003

The right details can make your characters and settings seem more real, more alive, even more interesting. But loading your story down with detail can put your reader to sleep.

How do you decide what details to use and when? Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Use details that will stand out to the reader, or that describe an object, setting, or person in a specific way. Try to pick details that will stay with the reader. For instance, maybe your character notices that her friend’s lipstick is on crooked, or that her hand is trembling.

  2. Use details to show emotion. Think of how your viewpoint character is feeling at the time, and then choose details that fit that emotion. For instance, if your character is feeling depressed, she might only see the grey of the pavement, or the cold of the day, rather than the flower blooming in a garden near her or a bird singing from a tree.

  3. Use details that will make your story seem believable. Details that are accurate, that show the writer knows the subject, can give the story credibility and can keep the reader in the world of the story.

  4. Use details that rely on all of your senses; don’t just use details that rely on sight. Incorporating details that are described by touch, taste, sound, and smell, as well as sight, gives your writing a richer flavour and makes your writing stronger. You can also incorporate the lack of a sense as a powerful story detail—the lack of sound or smell or sight can evoke strong emotion.

  5. Use details to bring the reader more into the story. Instead of saying “It was a stormy night,” show the rain pounding on the pavement and pinging against the windows, let the reader feel the air gusting through the streets, let them see how dark the sky is, how the air smells.

Details can be effective in making your story more vivid, believable, and gripping. But use them sparingly—don’t dump in details for everything your character sees and hears, or pile detail upon detail about the same thing (unless you’re going for that effect in a paragraph). Too many details clumped together can make boring reading, and slow the story down. But try to use enough details so that the reader feels like they are a part of the story, and that the story is real.

Look over your manuscript and see whether there are areas you can add in details to make something general become specific or more vivid in the reader’s mind. A few details might just be the missing component you need to bring your story to life.

©Cheryl Rainfield, 2003

Written by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED

If you like this article, you may post it on your website or use it in your print publication, as long as you provide a link back to my site (http://www.CherylRainfield.com), and credit me. I’d also really like to know where you put my article, but you don’t have to let me know in order to use it.