Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When Writing a Novel, Details Do It.

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When Writing a Novel, Details Do It.

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.
My father-in-law attained the rank of Major General in the Air Force. This guy had not attended college, let alone graduated from The Air Force Academy. Both of which are required for one star, let alone his two. Yet, despite his lack of education, this guy somehow rose to the third highest rank in the military. Not an inconsequential accomplishment.

One day I asked him the secret of his success and he offered two lessons I've not forgotten to this day. His first rule? "No harm no foul." In effect, take care of your people. His second rule? "Details do it." He said with everything he passed to his superiors, he ensured the correctness of even the tiniest of details. Of course, each boss promoted him as they knew his work was of the highest caliber.

So it is when we write. Details do, indeed, do it.

Imagine a scene where a character does something as simple as exit a car. Does the guy step out of the vehicle? Does he jump out, slide out or even fall out of the vehicle? It makes a difference, don't you think? If one gets out, he may have decided to pick up some milk on the way home from work. If they jump out, a level of tension is indicated, is it not? And if he falls out, all sorts of doors are opened here. Did he slip? Is he drunk or even dead?

The secret is in the specific words you choose for your nouns, verbs and adverbs.

I pay attention to the specificity of my nouns and verbs when I edit. During my first draft, I just write what comes to mind. Later, I review my nouns, verbs and adverbs to ensure they are particular to my scene.

Here's a example from my emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers." In this scene, I wanted to show man and beast at odds with each other. Here's the sentence as it read in my rough draft.

"The man walked behind a mule and snapped the reins to encourage his animal."
After editing, it read as follows:
"The man plodded behind an old mule and snapped the reins again and again to encourage the sluggish beast."
You can see in this sentence how the added details enhanced the image. First, "walked" became "plodded." Plod insinuates the man is tired and worn whereas "walk" does not necessarily do so. I also added the words, "again and again" to indicate the mule did not accommodate his driver. Finally, I changed, "animal" to "sluggish beast." Again, a much more effective picture, don't you think?

Yes, my friends, the details within your writing do indeed do it. If you pay close attention to your details, you'll find a much more effective story will emerge for you.
Now, does anyone care to share how they changed a simple detail and it made a marked difference to their novel?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the now-at-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. Terrific post! I love the story about your father-in-law. Very inspirational and excellent advice. This is truly applicable in the world of writing. Those details help make your work memorable and unique. They distinguish your tone from any other writer. May we link you up? Hope the wedding was fabulous! We missed you in your absence!


  2. C. Patrick SchulzeJuly 14, 2010 at 8:41 PM

    My father-in-law was an interesting guy, to say the least.

    The wedding was perfect. Thanks.

    As to the link, I'd be honored.

    Thanks, Marissa.


  3. You're right about those details. They definitely set the mood.

    It's wonderful that your father in law achieved such an impressive rank. Hard work, dedication,and details. You can't go wrong with that!