Writing Secrets: The power of the specific

 In All About Writing, Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Use specifics to draw us in. That’s the key to writing well. Give us the particular, we’ll expand it, if necessary, to visualise the whole.

I find this type of paragraph in a great many manuscripts:

He was never in a hurry to get there. The route was too interesting. He would pass slowly along the walkway, stopping to watch the tourists feed the pigeons and the flower seller foist her roses on guilty businessmen who had spent too long at the office…

I understand. This writer wants to give us a sense of his character’s environment, his world and his life – of the things your character does each day.

But phrasing it like this makes it generic. It loses its power. It becomes a generalised observation.

On the other hand, if you show us one particular day in his life, we will understand that this is the way he lives. If he takes this walk now, we will pass with him along the walkway.

We will see a very particular guilty businessman buy a rose from a specific flower seller. We will see a small Japanese girl with a pink back-pack feeding the pigeons.

What he notices now will tell us about him – the kind of things he notices and the way he’s feeling about the world.

A generic run-down of what he usually notices will tell us more about you than it will about your character.

Read Richard’s latest blog ‘Monday Motivation: Writing is both a curse and a blessing

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