It’s All in the Details
“I’m turning in my C paper, now,” I said. “I’ll read it to you. “The boy sat down on the curb. He was hot. He scuffed his old shoes in the dirt.” In the next few minutes those three sentences took on real life with a smudged-face sweaty boy in a ragged tee shirt; no shade anywhere, the leaves were all curled up and thirsty. His torn Converse with knots in the ties shuffled in the dust, his big toe protruding through the worn hole. The students layered and layered the details. I could see their eyes sparkle with interest as our character began to breathe before them. They began to care about him; what would happen to him?
They were on to it now. We broke into small groups. Someone in each group wrote a C paper, 3-4 sentences. The group changed it into an A paper in a timed four minutes by adding details. One kid tugged at my elbow. “Ma’am! Listen to this! Is this good?”
Not everyone sees details. Some people can look at a night sky and call it dark; writers write a paragraph on the same sky and never mention the dark.
As always, when I’m able to teach someone about writing skills, I learn something myself. What I learned from these sixth graders was the absolute necessity of details to bring the work to life. Of course there are mechanics – spelling, punctuation, and grammar – but perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar alone will not make a story come alive. Think about an oral storyteller. Those are essential skills for a writer and for anyone communicating or in business. Essential! But for a writer whose work must leap off the page and into a reader’s heart, it’s all about the details.