Writing Secrets: One magical point for better writing

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

Remember just this one magical point, and you’ll be an infinitely better writer for it.

There’s great power in specific details.

I was recently asked: “But surely some specific details, about places or subjects your readers don’t know, will alienate them? If I set it too precisely in a specific location, won’t this limit its audience?”

I believe the opposite is true. Being obscure about a place or time will not keep your readers interested.

Just because we may never have been to New York, does not mean we’ll be put off by a book which gives us exact details about streets and jazz bars. We need the detail: we need the specifics which allow us to visualise its real streets and the people who walk and drive there.

A few technical details about guitar tuning and plectrums, in your character’s conversation or actions, will add texture and realism to the scenes, even if your reader doesn’t understand every term.

We need to gain a sense of place and time. The larger events of the book shouldn’t occur in a vacuum.

We need the detail which allows us to visualise, and therefore be there with your characters. And we don’t mind specific names. In fact, we thrive on them. I have read books set in cities all over the world, and travelled with their characters down streets I have never visited in real life. But, far from alienating, the names were reassuring. Oddly, the specifics of those streets made me trust the writers.

Of course, you may choose to set your story in a fictitious location, but you still need to commit yourself. Even if you create a new town in an entirely fictitious country, you’re going to have to create enough specifics for us to feel that we’ve been there.

In my last book, The Imagined Child, I used a fictitious small town, and made up the names of its streets. But I nonetheless tried to give enough details of its street life that readers would trust their imaginations to my creation.

It’s in the details that our imaginations can find the material to conjure our own image of the world. The more we’re given, the more vivid our visualisations will be.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: A meditation on dialogue

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