Details, they are so fundamentally important in storytelling. I didn’t realise many years ago that it were the details, which made me love stories.
It’s the details of a character and the setting that really sucks us in. Reading The Night Circus there were so many specifics about the circus itself. The cotton candy. All of the different tents. The magic around the protagonists. It started to come to life for me, almost as if the circus was a character in itself.
For characters it is much the same thing. Make them memorable! Don’t let them simply move. Let them, scuttle, scurry or sneak. Make that wart on his nose gleam in the sunlight.
Details in The Lord of the Rings
I am absolutely convinced it are the details that make us enjoy The Lord of the Rings (and this one is ALL about the details). Take the Ents for example. Not only do they have an explicit look, their behaviour is wonderfully depicted both in the book and the second film. The slow manner in which they speak, the long strides they take and the words they use, which makes you believe these creatures have been around for a long time.
The Ents are just a detail among details in Tolkien’s epic tale. If you’ve ever read The Lord of the Rings, you know there are pages and pages that are just about the landscape. Even more, Tolkien created an entire language for his story. That is quite a devotion to worldbuilding!
Details in Harry Potter
Let’s take another classic example: Harry Potter. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Hermione’s frizzy hair, Ron’s freckles, Harry’s scar. The list goes on and on. Considering how lively all of these details have made the books, it is a small wonder Rowling became successful.
In the case of Harry Potter, I think Rowling really hit a sweet spot. She put in details that would make children from all around the world want to be one of the lucky trio. Why? Because they got to go to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and taste and buy every wonderful magic item.
How our brain remembers details
What is it about these details that make a piece of writing so much better? I reckon it is quite simple. Our own world is chock full of details. So, for a fictional world to feel real, we need details. Many details.
But it is not just that, I think. Taking this from a psychological angle, our brain is wired to cut out the unnecessary. Filtering out things that aren’t important to remember, is wonderfully useful. Otherwise our brain would be overloaded in seconds! So, as writers, we have to trigger the brain, make it want to remember what we’ve just told it. A brown sofa is hardly memorable. But a brown sofa with a noticeable bloodstain is something to take note of.
So next time you sit down to write, add some pezaz to your story by putting in detail after detail. Your tale doesn’t deserve to be bland, so don’t write it that way.
How do you add details to your story?