It’s all in the details

Detail detail detail. When to use detail in short fiction? That can be a tough choice. In a novel, you basically have unlimited space to say as much as you want whenever you want (I’m looking at you John Updike, with your paragraphs that are longer then a page). I’m going to give a few ideas about how I think detail should be used in short fiction.

Don’t over-saturate with background information.

I’ll say the average short story is 8-12 pages. That does not give you a lot of space to say everything you need. My tenure as a selection editor taught me that. Many student stories would spend 2/3 of their length just setting things up and giving the background information. Then the actual story would be crammed in at the end. Be immediate. The past can be a tool for giving just a little extra info when it’s needed.

Precession is key.

Be choosy. Pick and chose your details for the right moments. Let them set the mood and help establish a tone. By choosing just certain details to tell the reader an attic could vary from ominous to wondrous within the same structure of a sentence.

I can’t say that there is a specific “right” way to write detail, but I do think those are two great tips on how to use them. Your word choice and how you structure them are totally up to your style.

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