Monday, October 7, 2013

The Story is in the Details by Ada Brownell

Ada Brownell
Hey everyone, Annette here. Hope you had a great weekend! Ada Brownell is here today to get our writing week off to a strong start with some advice on how details engage our readers. Enjoy!

The Story is in the Details
by Ada Brownell

Have you noticed books that seize your attention are full of details?

“Description isn’t optional,” said Rebecca McClanahan in her fabulous book, Word Painting.[1] “The success of all fiction, and most poetry and non-fiction, depends in part on description’s image-making power.”

McClanahan tells us description begins in the eye and ear and mouth and nose and hand of the beholder. “Careful and imaginative observation may well be the most essential task of any writer.”

She quotes Aristotle who said, “When our aim is conciseness, naming a subject directly and precisely is the most effective route.”

In my studies I’ve learned the only thing you shouldn’t name is an emotion. Instead we use description to show the character’s reaction to the emotion. He turns and slams a door. She screams. The lady faints. The child vomits. A person trembles so much he spills his coffee. The horse rears after the blast of lightning.

McClanahan says description rarely stands alone and is seamlessly intertwined with other literary elements. She defines effective description this way:

1. Carefully worded and appropriate in sound and in sense, including the musical qualities of language.

2. Sensory. She used this description to show sensory detail –a salty kiss, a dancer’s leap, the fine brown hairs on a lover’s arms.

3. Using moving pictures wherever possible. “Good description can create the illusion of movement and vitality, bringing even a static subject to life.”

I noticed while working as a newspaper reporter how the television cameras at a news conference followed motion. Often the camera zoomed in on my hands writing furiously on a notepad. Movie cameras work much the same way. The reader also follows motion.

4. Employs metaphor or other figurative language. But the value comes from how it serves the story, poem or non-fiction piece.

Drawing the reader into the story is what using descriptive detail is all about. Effective writers’ words are wrapped in it.

[1] Writers Digest Books, Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, Rebecca McClanahan 


Enter an area where people are missing and radicals want to obliterate Christianity from the earth.

Joe the Dreamer
After Joe Baker’s parents mysteriously disappear, he finds himself with a vicious man after him. Joe and an unusual gang team up to find his mom and dad. The gang is dedicated to preventing and solving crimes with ordinary harmless things such as noise, water, and a pet skunk instead of blades and bullets. Joe reads the Bible hoping to discover whether God will answer prayer and bring his parents home. In his dreams, Joe slips into the skin of Bible characters and what happened to them, happens to him—the peril and the victories. Yet, crying out in his sleep causes him to end up in a mental hospital’s juvenile unit. Will he escape or will he be harmed? Will he find his parents?

Does God answer prayer? No fantasy. No wizard. Suspense. Christian payload.

Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult or 
The book is also available at, and is listed at 
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