In Telling True Stories, I read a short piece by Walt Harrington called “Details Matter.” While it’s geared toward journalists, it spoke to me as a creative nonfiction writer.
To research a story, he visited a home, which he described as “full of tacky teddy bears and knickknacks.” His first assumption was that they represented bad taste; I felt he was implying a moral deficiency in that judgment. What he discovered was that those offensive items were all gifts from people the family had helped.
Knowing that they had been of service to so many people completely revised his opinion of the family.
He said that details are important, but the information behind the stories is most important. Without that, they are just objects.
What I got out of his essay is that in memoir the details are important, but it’s important to show what those details mean to the narrator and to the characters. Each object must carry an emotional meaning. It’s not enough to merely describe.
Now that’s a powerful reminder about the small things in life.
14 responses to “What About the Little Things in Life?”
That’s so interesting. How is the emotional meaning to be conveyed? As in a poem, through details? Or with stories …. exposition? A mix? Other ways?
Photo: Is that a little squished bunny or a little hunkering-down bunny?
The bunny is hunkering down. He was out in front of the pot, but then he ran behind the pot and hid. He was tiny, the size of the palm of myhand.
I think it’s the context in which you present the details that show emotional meaning. If a man carries a bouquet of flowers next to him on the car seat, we don’t know anything until we know what he does with them or how he relates to them. He might be giving them to someone or he might be dumping them in the dumpster behind the restaurant.
Aw, what a sweet little bunny!
So so sweet! Teeny tiny!
I loved this – so easy to judge by outward appearances – and what a beautiful meaning behind the tacky presents – symbols of love and gratitude… … much to think about in this lovely post, thank you… plus the baby bunny !!!!!
Valerie, it’s so true–they were “symbols of love and gratitude,” and once he realized that he revised his opinion and stopped to consider how he had made a mistake in his initial judgment. The baby bunny was so adorable. So tiny.
I like that–“Each object must carry an emotional meaning. It’s not enough to merely describe.” An excellent reminder as we write.
Thank you, Deborah. I’m glad it spoke to you. Thank you for visiting!
“. . . details are important, but the information behind the stories is most important. Without that, they are just objects.” So important for us to remember as we write.
Yes, it seems everything needs to be connected and important or it’s not worth putting in.
Reblogged this on Healing by Writing and commented:
Interesting post which hits on the necessity of paying attention to detail as we write.
Thanks for the reblog, Sherrey!
That’s an important factor in every facet of life, I think! Details matter… Such a simple yet profound post! 🙂
They do matter. They can make the difference between one meaning and a completely opposite meaning!