The Stinking Details

at the babysitter's house
at the babysitter's house

This babysitter had a pet skunk. I remember the indigo tiles in the shower where the skunk stayed during the day. Most other details about her and her house I’ve forgotten.

Choosing those details to make a story real isn’t easy. No news to some of you of course. Or maybe you think you’ve got those details down. But how do you know?

5 thoughts on “The Stinking Details

  1. Choice of details is a problem only if you’re writing imitative or so-called Representational stories. In those cases, you’re thinking, wondering, comparing the details you admired in stories of other writers. In Presentational stories, you pick the details that have emotional meaning for the actors, details that you know resonate for the characters because you know their individual realities and truths.

    Even if you’ve completely fabricated the first paragraph here, I totally believe it because of the skunk and the indigo tiles in the shower; each seemed the truth of the you/I individual you wrote about here. Made up or not, those details made me trust the narrator absolutely.

    Doesn’t hurt that I use the same technique, which is to pick details that resonate emotionally for me as opposed to trying to argue them into place.

    Another thing I like about this first paragraph and, indeed, much of your work, is the utter lack of defensiveness. You are not trying to argue us into believing your settings. We believe because you do. We believe because in large measure the details you give us.

  2. Well, I was about to say I didn’t know when I had the right details, and the I read Shelly’s comment.

    Now I understand.

    Perhaps this will keep me from either showing too much or showing too little from now on.

  3. I’m a details person. Translated, this means I spend way too much time and energy examining all the trees and ignoring the forest — piling on details for the sake of what I imagine to be something like verisimilitude. Of course (er, I guess “of course”), that’s only in early drafts. I do hate it, though, when a reader comments that s/he noticed all the details which seem to symbolize Theory or Concept or Experience X (whatever X is), because I don’t like to play with symbolism and intended nothing of the sort. So I go through and rip out all the offending stuff. This is one of the few advantages of unpublished work: it’s ALL in draft form, so it’s a lot easier to do the ripping-out. 🙂

    As Shelly notes, you seem to have an uncanny knack (at least in your blog posts) for selecting just the right number of unobtrusive and utterly “true” details.

  4. My neighbors had two dogs. These dogs were dressed in clothes every day and had to eat dinner at the table…and yes, when I was invited over for dinner, a black lab with a tuxedo shirt sat next to me. I dished him up his potatoes.

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