English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340-600 aircraft (economy class). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jack Heffron, writing in Writer’s Digest, suggests that “your subject remains inert until you add the precise detail that brings it, in the reader’s mind, to life.” These added details can add life to both settings and characters. To demonstrate the point, here is a basic scene- a character and a setting- followed by improvements:
At the airport, Stacey Jackson waits for her luggage. She was in Borderville for a private viewing at her mother’s funeral but, before returning to Field, is meeting Herman and spending a day and a night in Banff.
The More Precise Scene:
At the Calgary airport, Stacey Jackson, her plaits of honey-colored hair hanging well below her shoulders, stands on the hard, grey, tile floor of the baggage pick-up area. An airport volunteer, dressed in his white cowboy hat and bright red vest, passes behind her several times. As she shifts her weight from one leg to the other, her soft-blue eyes scan the moving, silver-slatted conveyor belt for any sign of her nothing-fancy luggage bags.
She was in Borderville, dressed incognito in a black wig and dark glasses, for a private viewing at her mother’s funeral. Now, before returning to the small town of Field, located in the Kicking Horse River Valley of southern British Columbia, she’s meeting Herman and spending a day and a night in the town of Banff.
How We Get These Details
We get these preciase details by observing the worlds we’re talking about and, to quote Jack Heffron, “scribbling down the precise details that tell the story.”
For instance, say I need a hospital setting in one of my scenes. Then I need to visit a hospital and note the precise details. Here is an example:
Approaching the lobby, Sean scans the scene at the drop-off zone: several patients standing, taking long, lazy drags on cigarettes, their IVs still attached; and a couple of nurses smoking, a puzzling scene, although he knows the grip of cigarettes, having witnessed Jenny’s unsuccessful attempts at quitting.
The lobby is bright and inviting with easy chairs for relaxing. A coffee counter graces one side and a gift shop the other. But the slight disinfectant smell says hospital, not Chapters with a Starbucks: It’s a place he doesn’t want to be.
One wall contains a sign in bright red letters: Emergency. Next to it is an arrow pointing right. He walks briskly toward the sign, passes an elderly I.O.D.E. volunteer dusting the gift-shop counter, turns right, and then heads down a long hall.
Several doors with signs in black lettering on plastic backgrounds- cleaning, employees only, and emergency exit only- lead from the hall but Sean continues to the end and turns left
He’s immediately surprised by a room full of people sporting plaster casts, crutches, and an assortment of braces. Another elderly volunteer in a pink uniform is walking amongst them. He corners her and asks, “Excuse me. Where is the emergency room?”
The volunteer points to a doorway on the far side of the fracture clinic and politely says, “Over there.”
So, revisit a draft of your writing and try adding precise details.
- Heffron, Jack. 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing. Writers Digest. Feb. 2011.