The Devil’s in the Details


Berncastel, Germany

Embellishing your story with the right details can make the difference between being vivid and memorable versus slipping away like a boring stretch of highway in the rearview mirror. Finding the correct balance is not always easy, however, since there’s no perfect level; it’s not only genre-dependent, but subjective. Some readers expect more while other’s complain about their eyes glazing over. I tried to read a novel a while back that was so loaded with specifics that I felt as if I were there and could map out the entire area.  However, the plot moved so slowly, if at all, I was never able to finish it. Other readers felt differently, however, as it enjoyed several favorable reviews. Nothing is ever simple about writing. Like they say, you can’t please all the people, all the time.

A skilled writer, however, knows when to get down to the nitty gritty details, such as what color blouse the heroine is wearing or what’s on the menu for that romantic dinner at The 21 Club. There’s no greater way to build mood and imagery, but bogging down an action scene, whether physical or emotional, is a definite no-no. Get your reader familiar with the territory beforehand, then fire away.

A sense of place is another important element that can greatly enhance your story. Street names, specific restaurants (whether real or not), historical landmarks and even the weather can take your reader on an excursion to somewhere they’ve never been, adding depth and character to your story. Cities have personalities, too, which can add to the mood if exploited properly.


New York City

If your story takes place somewhere you’ve never been, there are various online resources that can provide the information you need. If you can’t afford to hop in your car or on an airplane to see for yourself, you can still obtain vital details. Wikipedia provides historical and demographic information for most cities and localities around the globe. Whether your hero or heroine has lived there his or her entire life or is visiting for the first time, a sprinkling of details will bring it alive for your readers, giving them the bonus of vicariously visiting someplace they may never get to in person. If, perchance, they have been there, you want them to recognize it, which will give you increased credibility.

Writing a chase scene? Google Earth is a fantastic way to roam the streets yourself! If you’re a visual type like I am, you’ll thrive on this blast of input. Research doesn’t have to be dry, boring or expensive. It can be fun as well as informative while providing inspiration and plot twists along the way. Give it a try and see if it takes your scenes to an entirely new level.

(Pictures by the author)

12 thoughts on “The Devil’s in the Details

  1. I roll my eyes when I hear an author saying that they made stuff up because they have never been there. There are so many free resources. But then there are the authors that stuff way too much detail into the story that it bogs it down. I think sometimes it is important for the author to know the details but not necessarily share everything they know.

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  2. +1 on everything, especially on the settings matter. That’s the reason why, although I currently live in London, I decided to set my mystery stories in a place I know way better than London, which is the place I lived my whole life: Italy.

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    • A sense of place is so important and so many authors don’t exploit it like they should. I love it when a book takes me somewhere I’ve never been before and leaves me feeling as if I’ve been there. Thanks for visiting, Stef!

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  3. Robert Ludlum (The Bourne Identity guy) was a master of this. AND he did it in a time long before the internet. I was amazed with his street descriptions and mastery of different locations across the globe that he used in his writing. I would have liked to have seen his passport!

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