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Writing Short Stories with Vivid Details

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August 2011
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“When writing short fiction, you want to make sure the reader experiences the story as vivid and continually as if he or she is watching a film.” (Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop)

The writer has a number of techniques that he/she can use to create a story that comes alive, a story that is compelling like a good film.

For instance, the writer can use “sensory language”, concrete and specific details, or figures of speech to narrate the story.

In this post, I’ll explain how to use description that creates a vivid, continuous dream inside the mind of the reader, a dream that seems believable. The following will be covered:

  • The power of vivid detail
  • Sensory details
  • Specific details
  • How to choose the best possible words
  • Figurative Language
  • Lyrical language
  • Telling Details

The Power of  Vivid Details

What is detail? It is a “picture in words.” The writer paints a picture with words in the mind of the reader. It is anything that creates a picture in the reader’s mind, such as sensory language or similes or metaphors or telling details. In writing fiction, your task is to write a story with vivid details in order to create a vivid, continuous dream inside the mind of the reader, in order to make the story seem believable in the mind of the reader. Two techniques you can use are sensory details and specific details.

Sensory Details

All great writers use sensory language to provide vivid details to their stories. They choose language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, touch, smell, sound, taste.

You must show, not tell the reader. You can use sensory details to describe a character, setting, plot, scene, and much more.

Example: Walking down the desolate gravel road, filled with pot holes, I could see the tipped canoe and paddle floating near shore, hear the call of the loon in the distance, the wind rustling the maple trees, sense the wet rain soaking through my windbreaker, evoking a sense of hopelessness.

By deploying sensory language, you make your story come alive.

Specific Details

Details must also be concrete and specific to create a dream inside the mind of the reader and to make the story believable.  All good writers use specific and concrete details,  not general, abstract language.

When writing a short story, you must paint a picture using concrete and specific language. To do this, follow these suggestions:

Use  of adjectives and other modifiers selectively. Write with specific nouns and strong verbs instead.

Example: If the character drives a car, tell the reader what kind of car. If the reader owns a home, tell the reader what kind of home. A condo? Bungalow? Palatial estate? Three story house? Trailer home?

 Also, always choose the best possible word. The difference between the right word and nearly right word is like lightning and thunder. Always choose the best possible word to convey what you are intending to describe in your story. Choose the best possible word to create an accurate and realistic picture in the mind of the reader.

Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. They clutter and create wordy sentences. A single well-placed adjective in a sentence have a powerful effect. The selection of a the right action verb can often eliminate the need for an adverb, which modifies a verb.

Use the best possible nouns and verbs. Nouns should be specific. If the guy is a teacher, tell the reader what kind of teacher the character is. If the character is walking, tell the reader how the character is walking…Is the character trekking, meandering, strolling, sauntering…

To help you choose the right words, use a dictionary to find the meaning of words and thesaurus to uncover synonyms.

Figurative Language

You must also use language that entertains your readers and describes your story in new and exciting ways. Often you will need to use a smile or metaphor to describe something abstract with  something concrete, or something known with something unknown. Figures of speech, such as simile and metaphor, are powerful techniques for doing this.

Simile

Figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared using “like” or “as.”

  • His stomach was as big as barrel.
  • Her life was like a book with a sad ending.

Metaphor

A metaphor is a figures of speech in which two different things are compared, without using “like” or “as.” Often the writer combines two different nouns, or uses the word “is” to make a comparison, Example: He is a monster. She is a witch.  Or use the proposition “of” to make a comparison.  Example: He was a man of many different colours.

As writer of fiction, you want to create similes and metaphors that are surprising, entertaining, original.

Don’t use clichés or hackneyed expressions as metaphors or similes. They’re dull.

Sound and Rhythm

The sound and rhythm of your languages choices can also create vivid details. Choose lyrical language that sounds and moves like the words of a poem. How can you do this? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Rhythm. Focus on the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables when writing a sentence. For instance, the sentence “The dog barked…” has “three syllables” where as “The pit bull bit his finger off” has  “eight syllables.” Ask yourself: How does the sentence sound? Flat? Energetic? Poetic?
  • Alliteration (two or more words placed close together with the same initial sound) Example: The dreary, rainy day evoked a sense of dread.
  • Repetition. Repeat key words. Example: He walked slowly down the hill, waded slowly into the water, began to swim slowly in the icy water.
  • Onomatopoeia. Use words that sound what they describe. Example: The killer bees buzzed around his face.

Telling Details

How much detail should you include to create a dream inside the mind of the reader?

According to Anton Chekhov, the writer should use “telling details.” A telling detail does what it says: It tells the essence of what it is describing. A telling detail can create a word picture in a very short time. The goal is to use as much detail as necessary— to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. A guideline you can follow is that “telling details” are “significant details.” Remember: Too much detail can be distracting and too difficult to envision.

When writing short fiction, you want to make sure the reader experiences the story as vivid and continually as if he or she is watching a film. You can do this by using sensory language, concrete and specific details, figures of speech, and telling details.

For more information on how to use vivid details to craft an entertaining and memorable short story,  read the following:

  • Writing Fiction (Gotham Writer’s Workshop)
  • Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway
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4 Comments

  1. Cliff Burns says:

    You can get away with padding in a novel or novella but with short stories and verse every single word counts and, as Polonius says in HAMLET: “brevity is the soul of wit”.

    “Telling details”, I like that. And Chekhov was an acknowledged master of short fiction.

    Good post and I hope those few authors out there still writing short form prose will find it and take its words to heart…

  2. Amir says:

    Dr madam/sir,
    Would really appriciate if you might be able to assist me.
    Salute.
    Amir

  3. Amir says:

    Do you have any examples of written composition

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