Writing Tips: How to Add Details to Your Story

I wanted to thank Gemma Dupont, at https://gemmadupont.wordpress.com/, for inspiring this article. She commented on a prior post saying:

“Well, I have been suggested to add more description as I was expressing more of the action. I so agree that is what I should do, but I am also afraid to over do it with the description in case the reader looses the thread of the story. As I have read some where they were so descriptive I had to reread to remember what the piece was originally saying. Would love some help on that topic. Thank you”.

To ease your concerns, Gemma, I first want you to know you aren’t alone. Professionals and amateurs contemplate the function of detail in their work through editing. A writer with some experience might disagree. They might say they don’t put conscious effort into detail but focus on story or plot instead, but I would urge them to consider what patterns their genres encourage. You’ll find a degree of detail requirements therein. For instance, a thrilling crime novel will require detail that reveals much but leaves out details of evidence or identities to heighten the intrigue. In fantasy, the idea of, what seems to be a superfluous amount of details, serves to immerse the reader into a world that on the whole could never exist otherwise. This leads to immersive detailing.

In an attempt to further your understanding, I’ll classify it into two categories based on authors I hold in high praise. These are the Márquez Approach and the Hemingway Approach. Note: these distinctions are not meant to be definitive, as there is a vast spectrum when it comes to detail.

The Márquez Approach

When I speak of Márquez within this context, I am not speaking of “magical realism”, as it is often called. Instead, I am speaking of the degree of detail Márquez employed in many of his novels. For the Colombian novelist, details immersed the reader to make room for the magic he found in everyday life. It comes from his time as a journalist, how he cared for every detail of his work because every detail had its own story.

The Marquez approach does not detail for its own sake, though. It is not the fantasy genre standard of superfluous detail — I am not knocking the genre, but fantasy fiction happens to be the biggest culprit I’ve seen. Rather than looking at it that way, I like to represent this approach using the concept of mosaic.


Montaner Mosaic
From the Palau de la Musica Catalana by Montaner sourced from TileandMosaic

In the picture above we get a depiction of a choir but within a smaller context, we have myriad tiles that compose the whole. So, when I talk about adding detail, I am suggesting to use this exact approach. Feel free to add detail and you can be excessive about it, as long as it paints the picture that you want as a whole.

The Hemingway Approach

Calling the Hemingway approach abstract art would do both a disservice, but they, unfortunately, compare nicely. The goal for both, although done in unique ways, is to use minimal detail through subdued language and details or minimal paint strokes to get a certain effect. These works gain power not so much for what was said but what wasn’t.

In using this approach, see yourself as an auditor. Your goal is to be as functional and direct as possible and to use few extraneous details, in the hopes of conveying a meaning to your reader through their own rumination and association of ideas. It is the more subdued and underestimated of the two approaches, but do not think that it is ineffective. The namesake of this approach was onto something.

I don’t list the two methods as the sole means to think about how to put detail in your work, but they will help you incorporate detail if you feel confused or uncertain. If the above methodologies are somehow unhelpful, remember the advice at the start and consider how the genre you write in considers detail.

4 thoughts on “Writing Tips: How to Add Details to Your Story”

  1. One thing I struggle with is blending the two. I love the Hemingway style, but then I’ll be going along and we’ll meet a character I love, and they’ll get a huge descriptive scene filled with facial tics and body language and it feels really out of place amid all the minimalist detail elsewhere. It’s nice to see those two styles put into words that aren’t just “descriptive” and “flat.” Both definitely have their uses.

    Liked by 1 person

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