Writing Secrets: Why you should be using more details in your writing
Mary was in the kitchen making herself tea.
But there’s something else which is problematic about this sentence. Specific actions show us more about the character, even if they’re incidental to the main thrust of the scene – she’s making herself tea, for example, when her daughter enters and tells her she’s running away to be a circus acrobat.
Gill eyes the collection of mugs in the sink, picks the least stained and rubs at a lipstick smear with her thumb. What the hell. Probably her own. She sniffs at it and places it next to the kettle. She opens a drawer, rummages in a plastic bag and tosses a teabag into the mug…
All this, of course, will be woven through the real business of the scene, the dialogue with her daughter. When she becomes really angry, she can gesture too wildly and slosh the tea over the knickers and socks without mates, waiting to be sorted on the kitchen table. She might even fling the half-full mug into the sink, at the wall, or her daughter’s departing back.
Gill might, of course, be the kind of person who keeps a thermometer beside the kettle. She could wait till the water reaches exactly 80 degrees, warm her Chinese pot, then sprinkle it with Lapsang tealeaves …
Get the picture? The fact that Gill is making tea gives us nothing. The specific details give us everything – the kind of person she is as well as her state of mind and how she’s affected by the news she’s about to hear.
Specific actions help us show their reactions – to each other and what they’re discussing.
Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Writing is nice work, if you can get it’
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