I spend a lot of time talking to writers and kids about "the right details". For me, the right details are the evidence, examples and explanations that paint a vivid picture for your reader -- and create deeper understanding. But that's a technical definition. Here's a great example from the July 5 New Yorker. It's in a story on Steve Carell: "First Banana" by Tad Friend. Here's the run:
And here's what I like about it:
References to an array of TV shows ensures that -- so long as we've got a TV -- we'll be able to get a feel for the kind of production and plot line Friend's writing about. Examples like these give readers important guideposts as they navigate the piece.
Friend's word choice creates exceptionally clear explanations. Terms like "scripted spontaneity" and "guys-high-fiving" are so descriptive it's almost impossible NOT to get the point. And the use of engineering here, "engineering scenarios that feel like life minus all the boring parts", reveals the precision maneuvers writers and directors deploy to create realistic improv'd scenes. This helps us grasp that improv doesn't mean out of control or unintentional.
And then there's the concluding sentence, which brings it all together so neatly, just in case you hadn't quite figured it out yet:
"The promise of these films is that they're going to be just like vegging with your buddies, only with whiter teeth and bubblier bong water and maybe a mayhem-causing dog or ferret or vulture."
Friend uses a scant 140 or so words to create a vivid mental picture for his readers that sets up an entire section of the article. The passage works so well because of Friend's focus on his audience. In the broadest sense, that's New Yorker readers, who share enough attributes to be a "type". The next level is New Yorker readers who like Steve Carell. And the final level might be New Yorker readers who like Steve Carell and know something about comedy and film/tv production. Friend directs his writing squarely at the middle group (I reckon), but his details aren't so fussy or rudimentary that they lose folks like me who know a lot about comedy and "the industry".
As you're writing this week, think about your audience and what they want to know. Then consider the voice, word choice and details that will resonate with them. Practice writing with these things in mind and I bet you'll find you're work is more effective. Go on. Try!
Want to see more reviews of good writing -- and tips for how you can emulate it? Check these links: