What About the Little Things in Life? Part 2

On Monday I wrote about an essay in Telling True Stories by Walt Harrington called “Details Matter.”  It reminded me how important are the small things in life.  But, as Harrington shows,  it’s our interpretations of them (in our writing) which are even more important.

Most writers realize that details are important.  In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes, “This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history.”  Writers obsessively scribble notes to themselves about the shade of a flower petal, the height of a tree, and the sound of a motor.  I know I do this.  I want to remember it all. It becomes part of my history.

But it’s not enough that we add these details to our books.  It’s not enough to give our characters little details which differentiate them.  We need to know the emotional story of their belongings, their accoutrements, their props.

My friend Wilma, aka Jeannieunbottled, asked how we give the emotional story to these objects.  This is what I wrote to her:

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.

Did I really just do the tacky thing of quoting myself?  Hah.  Well, it’s because I’m too lazy to re-write the thought.

I kind of like thinking of it in a magnified way to see it more clearly.  For the following photo, if I describe the luminosity of the white pearls and how they are speckled by light and shadow, but forget to mention where the pearls are hanging, you might automatically think of an entirely different emotional context.

Art by Janet Orr

12 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory

12 responses to “What About the Little Things in Life? Part 2

  1. Very interesting. Incidentally, I enjoyed seeing you quote yourself.

    • lucewriter

      Hahaha, it’s definitely supposed to be forbidden to quote yourself! Oh well, I’m tacky as anything.

  2. Sherrey Meyer

    I loved your quote and am so glad you quoted yourself! Interesting and enlightening post.

  3. I appreciate your attention to details. We as writers have the joyful obligation of bringing our world to life for generations to come. We are the history to be learned from, so that our children’s children need not repeat our mistakes, but build on our glories. And those glories are only found in the details we share. Thanks for a great post!

  4. Very enlightening post! I enjoyed every single word… Have a great weekend!!
    🙂

  5. Coincidence or is that piece by Janet Orr the realtor? I think I bought a house from her once.

  6. Fantastic post, I love it. I keep a little note, or should I say a deskful of notes to remind myself to include more information in my posts. I never thought anyone would want to follow my blog, and I find its a bigger process than I thought to get better as quick as I would like. I really enjoy reading your blog.

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