Writing Secrets: Details are your magic carpet

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

Details are magical. Use them well and they can conjure us to another time and place.

They can also transport us into the state of mind and emotions of the characters. The way a character sees the world around him shows us more about him – as well as what he’s looking at.

I found a wonderful example of this the other day in Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure, long-listed for last year’s Man Booker Prize:

There are some things I thought had died with our father, but I was wrong. Mother tells us over breakfast that we will be heading down to the shore for a love therapy and I have to put down my spoon. Suddenly I am not hungry. Slick orbs of tinned fruit, anaemic, swimming in their juice. A prune like a dark yoke next to them. Grace continues to spoon mandarin segments into her mouth, unperturbed.

It’s those slick orbs that did it for me. They sound like eyes, don’t they? Mackintosh has no need to explain how Lia feels about the love therapy. We know instantly. The details tell us.

So much more elegant than allowing her to think it too directly, which would be a little “on the nose”, wouldn’t it? We get it – and it’s so much more powerful for being that little oblique.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: A yeasty tale of bread and inspiration

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