Skill 4.6: Specific Deatils & Research


Specific Details

Specific details add credibility and life to a story. I am pulling an example from my novel Unveiling. A literary agent read this paragraph and commented on how it made her believe my main character was really an artist and that I knew a lot about art. I am not an artist, but I had become acquainted with artist, Russell Jacques, and several conversations about art contributed to my understanding of the artist’s perspective. I also researched artistic mediums, techniques and the philosophies of various artists.

Here is how I used this research and the specific details to create a scene:

. . . she stood before a canvas in her studio, adding paint to a she-falcon that soared above The Great Dune. She swirled a one-inch sable brush into unbleached titanium, added a touch of cobalt blue and dioxazine purple, just the faintest touch of purple, to enrich the chestnut brown of its feathers.

She used acrylics, which she preferred. Like the environment of her homeland, they dried fast and left hard edges. Lulu, her art teacher, had tried in vain to teach her watercolor and oil, but she did not understand watercolor and could not envision the pictures in her head with such soft edges and diluted tones. She did not have the patience for oil, but she also resisted its well-blended lines.

Where the horizon kissed the craggy-edged escarpment, she switched to a small, stiff-bristled brush and blended hazy touches of light cadmium yellow and titanium white, pulling a few strokes of radiating light up into the blue sky, and up from the edges of the falcon’s wings. She changed brushes, selecting a half-inch square-tipped brush, and scooped up Payne’s gray, a color more black than gray, a dab of purple, and another dab of cobalt green, then gouged the land with cracks, fissures, and shadows. Lastly, she touched up the falcon’s blue-black bead of an eye set amidst its yellow orbit and then its beak, as dark as slate.

Finished, she turned to clean her brushes.



As you can see above—research is key. However, if you’re like me, you can get lost in it. I’ve learned to dive in, find exactly what I need, exit and write the scene. I even research times of sunset in my location, weather patterns and climate, wildflowers, whatever I need. I also find pictures that help me describe a place, say the interior of a jet or the interior of a government building. The internet is a wealth of knowledge. When I first started to write Unveiling, the internet was not around, and then, it did not contain as much as now. I spent years in the U.C.I. library reading book after book of personal accounts of Saudi Arabia—this takes a lot of time. With the internet, it is no longer necessary. Therefore, there is simply no excuse for any writer not to find amazing nuggets of specific detail—and writers of historical novels, such as Unveiling, can now find detail of dress; crime writers can find details about weapons or F.B.I. protocol. Sadly, I read manuscripts from time to time where the author simply wrote from his or her head without a care in the world to specific detail. It shows! If you’re serious—says the teacher in me—do your homework. It’s easy, fun, and makes your writing pop.

Warning—do not dump every tidbit of information you find into the writing. It’s tempting to “show off” your vast knowledge, but it will bog down the story. Only use what you need for authenticity and then move along. Your readers will thank you.


Go to Skill 4.7: Sensory Details

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