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Writing with precision and detail

Writing with precision and detail Writing with precision and detail
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    Specific detail is a way of creating interest for the reader by gesturing to an important piece of backstory or history without giving the whole thing away. When you boil something big down to a specific detail the reader can notice and connect to, it significantly enhances their experience of the story by making them feel like they’re discovering something. It also keeps your reader’s attention much more focused, because it’s easier to take in and remember one specific detail than a lot of fuzzy generic details. 

    Hinting at Characterization

    In the opening chapter of your story, we want to meet the characters and get to know them a bit. But this is more than just getting to know their plot motivations and personal goals. We want to get an idea of what makes them distinct and interesting and to hint at their backstory. Incorporating some Specific Details about your character will help the reader understand what makes them unique, and thus help the reader to connect to them. 

    Exercise: Write out four memories that are important to your character. Now take those events and turn them into a Specific Detail about your character. Maybe it’s a scar, or a gesture, or their favorite outfit. Now that you’ve got those details, how can you incorporate one or two of them into your opening chapter? 

    Hinting at Worldbuilding

    Readers love big, expansive worlds with lots going on, the sense that there’s a new potential story lurking around every corner. While this is most obvious in genres like fantasy and science fiction where there’s a lot of worldbuilding, this is also true in contemporary romance. In a small town romance, we expect the small town to be fleshed out, to have its own cast of characters for us to get to know. Similarly, if the story is set in a familiar big city like New York or LA, we expect to get a sense of fast-paced city life going on outside the immediate bounds of our story. 

    The promise of a rich world can help to hook your reader, but the focus of the hook should be on the front story. How does this work? 

    Rather than giving the reader a crash course on the history of the world, use your opening chapters to give them little hints. If the reader gets the sense that there’s a lot going on under the surface of the scene in front of them, they will want to hang around and find out more. Showing them the tip of the iceberg is more effective than describing the iceberg’s dimensions. 


    Sasha kept her hands at her sides and her steps steady as she circled slowly around the perimeter of the temple. The hem of her ceremonial robe dragged over the tiled floor. She kept the hood up and her eyes downcast, in a picture-perfect image of devotion, even as the fabric chafed the back of her neck. 

    The temple was all but deserted at this hour. As usual, a few worshippers gathered around the statue of the Patron of gambling, but that was all. The only temple guard posted was a young woman with a handsome face fixed in the sourest frown Sasha had ever seen.

    Sasha didn’t speed her pace as she passed the guard, though it took a concentrated effort to keep her steps and breathing steady and unremarkable. The woman peered at her, and Sasha curled involuntarily into her hood. She’d long since taken out her piercings, but the puncture scars on her lips and nose would mark her for suspicion anyway. 

    Not that it wasn’t warranted, in her case. But the guard didn’t know that. 

    At the shrine to Dalios, the legendary founder of the Empire, Sasha grit her teeth and made full obeisance. She pressed the stud in her tongue to the roof of her mouth; it was the only Oberite piercing she kept, the reminder that she was to be a messenger for the gods’ truth. She spoke apologies in her mind even as she spoke heresy with her tongue.

    But her betrayal wasn’t in vain. Heaped on the altar were coins and a few pieces of jewelry, the wealth of the Empire given back to itself. As she rose from her bow, Sasha’s fingers met cold metal, and she secreted those minor riches into the special pocket sewn into her sleeve.  

    “Hey, you there!”

    Sasha turned slowly and came face to face with the sour-faced guard, her sword drawn. 

    In this example, we’re not told very much outright, but we get a sense of the world through how the main character interacts with the world. From the very first paragraph, the idea that the ceremonial robe chafes sets Sasha subtly at odds with the environment she’s in. We learn that gambling is popular in this society. As we progress through the scene, we learn that Sasha is a religious dissenter in a society that venerates its own semi-mythical founder. All of these details are introduced in the context of the rising tension of the scene, so there is some emotional resonance attached to them. The way Sasha feels about the temple gestures to an external political/religious conflict of which she is a part and sets up some of the worldbuilding for the story to come.

    Exercise: Write out the history of the place your opening scene takes place in. It can be as extensive or as brief as you like, as political or mundane as you want, but should have at least three events in it. Now, take those events and turn them into a Specific Detail in your scene. Maybe a historical battle becomes a statue or a place name. Or, if you’re writing something in our contemporary world, maybe the protagonist’s grandparents’ wedding becomes an heirloom tea set, or a fight with their parents when they were a teenager becomes a bedroom door that doesn’t shut right. Try going back through your scene and inserting these little details where you can. How does this change the way the scene feels?

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