Noticing Details

Sometimes when I read narratives written by students, I find myself experiencing Polar Bear Syndrome.  Have you heard of that?  Picture a polar bear in a snowstorm, standing next to an igloo.  Maybe he’s eating vanilla ice cream out of a white bowl.  Got that picture in your head?  What do you see?  Yeah, white.  Like a blank page.  That’s Polar Bear Syndrome–no details.

The characters in your story should never exist inside a blank page.  Close your eyes and picture the scene.  Fill in the details with six senses (yes, I said six).  What do you SEE?  Describe colors, sizes, textures, action.  What do you HEAR?  Describe soft sounds and loud ones, and how voices sound.  What do you SMELL?  Not all smells are offensive!  They can be strong or subtle, enticing or offputting.  What do you TASTE?  You can taste the air.  You can taste fear.  You can taste dinner, but please say more than, “It tasted good.”  What are you TOUCHing?  Describe texture and temperature, size and shape.  What are you FEELing?  This is the most important one!  What are your characters’ emotions?  I want to know if they are angry, jealous, in love, bored, or daydreaming.  Show me how they feel.

Brainstorm lots and lots of details for every scene in your story, then select a few to leave out.  Make the reader do SOME work and let them imagine some of the details (see the post about Thinking About Literature).  The more real you make the background, the experience, and the characters’ emotions, the better your story will be.

CAUTION!  Please do not suddenly insert a hamburger into a scene just so you can describe a taste.  If there is no food, maybe you have a mouth dry with fear, or can taste the salty spray from the ocean.  No taste at all?  Leave it out before you put in something that doesn’t fit.

Try it!  Post a comment describing a scene that we will fall right into.

On my Kindle:  The Bum Magnet by K.L. Brady

9 responses to “Noticing Details”

  1. I fully agree with your post. Here at Chaboya, my language arts teacher always tell us the importance of good setting details, as well as sensory details for the reader to notice. My teacher always tells us to show, not tell. This is very important in the narritive cirriculum. It was very important today, as Chaboya just took the district writing test, where fictional narritive was one of the two prompts. (hopefully i passed, as we get graded on it!)

    Anyways, happy writing, and great job teaching Mrs. Ulleseit
    Your Former Sixth Grade Student
    Matthew Visenio

  2. Thanks, Matthew! I hope you did well on the proficiency!

  3. I stepped onto the powdery sand that warmed my feet. The waves pounded against shore just a few yards away from where I was standing. People yelled to each other, trying to speak louder than the wind howled. The salty smell of the ocean was obvious in the air. As the wind blew in my face, the sand protested as I quickly ran towards the shoreline.

    1. Wow, good job, Stephen! I feel like I’m there, and that’s what details are supposed to do!

      1. Thanks!

  4. zoha cochinwala Avatar
    zoha cochinwala

    It is very important to include all five sences and make the reader feel like their there. Otherwise the reader will get very bored.

  5. Can’t you over detail, sometimes people use WAY too many adjectives or adverbs.

    1. Oh yes, Kate, very true! The trick is to pick the very BEST descriptors, the most specific nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that convey what you are trying to make the reader feel.

  6. With sweat trickling down the side of my neck and raining down on my beach clothes, I trudged through the rough sand barefoot. My feet felt life flames burning in the kitchen, but even though I kept calm on the outside, all my organs were screaming for a sudden splash of the cool, clear ocean water. As I approached the moist sand, the stench of salty waves filled the air and the scorching heat was beating against my skin causing every droplet of sweat to evaporate.

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