|It's all in the details. (Photo credit: Uri Baruchin)|
I could explain to you exactly what I mean, but I think examples would do the job better:
Kate Hart says:
One of my favorites is in How To Save A Life - the mom cuts her hair off and it makes the girl cry, which totally happened to me as a preteen-- we'd just moved, new school, Mom started new job, and the hair was like the final straw in too much change.
“When a hurricane damaged my father's house, my brother rushed over with a gas grill, three coolers of beer, and an enormous Fuck-It Bucket - a plastic pail filled with jawbreakers and bite-size candy bars. ("When shit brings you down, just say 'fuck it,' and eat yourself some motherfucking candy.")” from "You Can't Kill the Rooster" in Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisKody Keplinger:
Hazel records and watches every America's Next Top Model marathon, even if she's seen the episodes before, in TFIOS. I love this one, because we see Hazel as this kind of deep thinker, but this grounds her and makes her feel like a real teenager to me.
In SOME GIRLS ARE. Regina is constantly popping antacids when she's stressed. It's actually connected to an eating disorder, but I thought this was an interesting manifestation. And it becomes very telling every time she takes an antacid (she carries them with her everywhere).Amy Lukavics:
The way the older brother from Say Cheese and Die! mistook veal for chicken, and then mistook turnips for potatoes in the sequel.Phoebe North:
The way Harold the walking scarecrow spread out bloody skins to dry in the sun, in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
I once saw the script guide to A Hard Day's Night, starring the Beatles, and there was a note that John Lennon never sits, he sprawls or drapes himself over chairs. That's stuck with me for years.Stephanie Kuehn:
I loved that the boy (Craig) in It's Kind of a Funny Story sits down to pee. Okay, see, it sounds weird to say I loved that. It was a poignant, telling detail about his character and about the nature of depression.And mine:
One of my faves is in The Raven Boys-- Gansey is always chewing mint leaves.They're details that make you feel like you know someone, or that you know a secret, private part of them, or that you know their darker parts. They're the details that make a story ring in your head like a bell, or creep up on your conscious mind while you're falling asleep, or keep resurfacing even when you've read a dozen books since then. Or they're those details that don't have a clear logical explanation-- why does it matter that Gansey chews mint leaves?-- but that are so specific and so unique that they make a character seem like a real person. Because real people do things like that, just because they like to, or just because.
Details are what build a world, what build a character. And when you're like me and the same descriptions come to mind over and over again, or you find it difficult to describe things with any specificity, details are where you can return to ground your story and your characters.
The best ones feel like little revelations about a character or a story-- John Lennon draping himself over chairs, or Craig sitting down when he pees, or Regina popping antacids. The best ones are not obvious or cliche, but unique enough to be memorable, and not so odd that they take you out of the story as you read.
I think the best way to start getting those revelatory details in your own writing is by noticing them, and not just in books or television shows or movies, but in the people around you. For example: I had a friend in high school who gave up swearing for lent and started snapping his wrist with a rubberband every time he slipped. My mom (and I!) can't help but scratch mosquito bites until they bleed. One of my high school teachers always gulped when she swallowed.
There are things we remember about people, and places, and moments, and we can train ourselves to see them or remember them. And I'm pretty sure that if we start to do that, we can find them in our writing, too.
How about you? What details from stories or movies or life do you have stuck in your head?