Monthly Archives: October 2017

The details, what it’s in

People thought his descriptions were too long.

Sounds like what you’ve done up to now is go with the idea that more is better and a great deal more is even better than that.

So maybe change your criteria.

But to what?

Try the idea that the best description is one that with a minimum of words conveys the essence.

Guitar notes struck the air like silver dimes.

That’s from William Styron’s now forgotten first (and best) novel, “Lie Down in Darkness.”

You might also read “In the Blink of an Eye,” by Walter Murch. He was the film editor of “The English Patient.”

Film editing? What’s that got to do with it?

When you edit a movie, you have to make a hundred a eighty thousand decisions about what to put in (and leave out) and where exactly to put it. You’re dealing with and looking for what Murch calls “precipitant” details.

What’s a precipitant detail? Did you ever take a chemistry class where you learned about precipitants? You’ve got a beaker of clear fluid. You add another chemical, which causes some of the stuff in the previously clear liquid to precipitate out, those white flakes of stuff that float to the bottom. It makes visible something that was formerly there but not visible or maybe not visible enough.

Precipitant details are those that (I might have this wrong) precipitate out the emotion of scene so that it becomes visible to the reader. From “Lie Down in Darkness”

He and Peyton had been happily married for some years now, but a trivial argument had come up; her back was to him; she was weeping. She was gazing from their penthouse window at the Manhattan spires and towers which lay below, as if drowning, in the movielike glow of autumn dusk.

The reader’s not exactly sure even what the hell it means, but you get the feeling, the emotion that’s evoked.

As Lisa Cron points out in “Story Genius,”

…feelings don’t just matter, they are what mattering means.

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