[Tipster] Selecting Just the Right Details for Your Story

tipster post Mar 25, 2022

The right details in a story fire up the imagination of the reader.

This is true with nonfiction or fiction writing.

"What to include, what to leave out," writes John McPhee, in his classic Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. "Those thoughts are with you from the start."

Details are important.

But too many details or the wrong details can slow down the reader. Too few details may make a story boring or dry.

Three Principles for Detail Selection

1. Write down as many details as you can - in the note-taking phase.

You'll not use all of the details in your actual writing project.

Let's say, for example, that you are recalling a story from your childhood. Jot down everything that you can remember.

Throw down the colors, the smells, the emotions, the sounds, your thoughts.

Just burp out all the details into your notes.

2. Select only what's interesting to you.

As you lay down the words for your first draft, use only the details that capture your imagination.

"It's an utterly subjective situation, " writes McPhee. "I include what interests me and exclude what doesn't interest me."

This was surprising to read. But so true.

What are the details that make the story important to you, the writer?

3. Always include color.

Not sure why I added this point, except that I often forget to paint the scene with the use of color.

Here's an example of something I wrote recently - when I was fly fishing in the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park.

"On this day, it’s hard not to catch fish: fat, speckled Yellowstone cutthroat trout with orange slashes on either side of their jaw."

Don't Overwrite

Last, the temptation of new writers is to overwrite. Don't.

As you edit your first draft, make sure that the details you've selected are truly the ones that are interesting to you - according to McPhee.

Not every detail should go into the story you're writing.

Make sure you're not cluttering up your writing with unnecessary details because you're trying to impress your reader.

That's called being "bombastic."

Bombastic is a pejorative word that means "pompous and inflated speech or writing."

Don't be bombastic.

Be tasty in your selection of details for your stories.

Now, buckle up and write!