Does your young writer struggle to add detail? Get outside, observe your surroundings, and you’ll have it figured out it no time.
I’m guilty. In the sixteen years I’ve taught writing, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emblazoned a student’s composition with the words, “Needs more detail!”.
At first when I was young and green, I would write the comment and leave it at that. But I came to realize simply asking for more details wasn’t going to cut it. Writers in progress need to be shown what that means, whether it’s using details to flesh out the setting of a story or to prove the argument made in a thesis. So I began to encourage my students to stop, look and listen, to be observant and notice the world around them. It’s so easy to slip into our daily routines, our blinders firmly in place as time marches proverbially on.
I try to practice this with my own children so that they may be more present in the day to day. Now that the weather is warmer and the kids are desperate to get outside (and really, who am I kidding? I’m desperate to get outside, too), I use our outings as an opportunity to notice, take in and use even the smallest detail. From the scent of spring on the breeze to the chorus of frogs in the creek, no detail is unimportant. Details create moments, and those moments can be transformed into brilliant pieces that entice our readers to see, imagine and behold the wonder around us.
Observe and record: Focus on becoming more aware of your surroundings. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Try to notice even the smallest of details: a droplet of water clinging to flower petal after a summer shower; the barely perceptible breeze that disturbs the humidity just enough. Record those things which make the scene. In other words, write down what makes the moment for you, even if it seems trivial at the time.
Wait: Once you’ve made your list (or lists), set it aside for a few days. This provides distance between the writer and the moment, giving you time to process the event and create a different perspective.
Write: A few days later, pick up and read over your list. Then use the details in the following exercises, designed to aid writers of all levels
- Build a story: Create a fictionalized version of the moment you experienced. Add characters, conflict, even a theme if you are so inclined. Craft vivid images from your recorded details to help the reader experience the scene. Include details that appeal to the senses.
- Create a puzzle: Use your details to create a list of hints for a puzzle. Think of the items you recorded as clues to a specific location or type of event. Rewrite the details in the form of clues then ask a friend or family member to guess the location or event you have written about. This is an excellent way to test your observation and writing skills – does your reader come to the conclusion you intended? Why or why not?
- Inspire a work of art: Details are designed to form images in the mind of the reader, so why not create them on the page in a different way? Transform your written observations into images on paper, recreating the scene as best you can. Include both large and small details, perhaps even including words or phrases from your list in the illustration. Provide a friend or family member with the list and ask him to do the same thing. See how your illustrations differ and discuss why.
- Write a poem: Writing poetry is like painting a picture with words. Take the details you recorded and communicate your experience through vivid images in verse.
If you do this with your children, please share! I’d love to see the wonder you find.