Creative Writing Tips: Details, Details

Details are a writer’s friend. Sometimes, they’re a writer’s only friend. I was reminded of this during the six weeks I spent in Oregon wine country recently, researching a travel book. I visited more than a dozen wineries dotted across the lush Willamette Valley, interviewing the proprietors and winemakers.

Ghost Hill vineyard

Ghost Hill vineyard

I worried my questions would grow stale and I would end up hearing the same thing over and over again. Au contraire. The vineyards were as distinctive as their owners and I encountered a fantastic, fascinating jigsaw puzzle of stories, facts and anecdotes that was far richer and wider ranging than I’d imagined.

What made each vineyard unique? Details.

What will allow me to write vividly and engagingly about each one? Details.

So often as writers we worry about the big picture and forget that paintings are made of individual brush strokes. Creative writing is about concentrating on the brush strokes and letting the canvas worry about itself.

Life is rich in detail. To capture something faithfully you have to hone in on the little things. Things like:

The chunk of fire opal at Ghost Hill Cellars that the owner’s father, an ex-Marine with a taste for moonshine, dug out of a field decades before his son and daughter-in-law converted the family farm to a vineyard and started making some of the finest pinot noir you’ll ever taste.

The rows of waxed-paper chocolate milk cartons in Elk Cove vineyards, each protecting a nub of freshly-planted grape vine.

The pen-and-ink greeting cards in the Plum Hill tasting room that are drawn by an elderly woman who comes up to the winery with her sketchpad and artist’s eye.

Each of detail is an element of the larger story of place, person, and atmosphere. Weave them together and from the details emerges a rich, complete picture. As writer’s, all we need to do is render each detail with care and know when stop!

You Write! Choose a person in your life (mother, brother, colleague, partner, mechanic, etc) and write 100 words or less in the COMMENT section about a detail that illustrates their personality.


6 thoughts on “Creative Writing Tips: Details, Details

  1. This detail my not reflect my grandmother’s true personality, per se, but it’s the first thing I thought of:

    The softened wrinkles around Grandma’s face had created pillowy recesses for her gray eyes to rest in. As she neared her ninth decade of life, one might be tempted to suggest those tired eyes reflected the exhaustion of her wild, exciting youth, the toil of her productive midlife, and the burden of watching friends and loved ones leave forever in her twilight. Despite its melancholy beauty, such poetry is only half true. Her sunken eyes were gifted by the same inevitable aging that bestowed the Alzheimer’s ravaging her mind, dismembering her past and destroying her present.

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