In the film, The Bridges of Madison County, Francesca (Meryl Streep) tells Robert (Clint Eastwood), “Robert, please. You don’t understand, no one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details…” The thing about movies is that you see the details when watching a film. They don’t have to be described. However, if you’ve ever written a screenplay, you laboriously spell out every single thing from the sounds of a creaky door to “slouching in a front row torn upholstered seat in a moldy smelling theater.” Nothing is assumed…each tiny detail is duly noted.
Telling details actually means DON’T TELL ME, SHOW ME WITH YOUR WORDS!
In his book, Let the Crazy Child Write, author Clive Matson discusses in detail several ways to bring image detail into your writing. It is the details that capture our attention and imagination. To bring the experience to a reader through our writing, we recapture the details. It is the details that place the reader where your story occurs and it is the descriptive details that shows the reader who your characters are (along with their dialogue and actions).
Clive Matson gives a few examples of image detail: “The worn green fabric on the end of a diving board, a piece of chewed gum in the boss’s ashtray, the pearly scar on a lover’s neck.” Recalling a detail, the entire memory returns. How many of you have had that experience with a smell, say cinnamon, which suddenly transports you back to a childhood memory–french toast with cinnamon and butter, a special treat for a Sunday morning breakfast. Or, remember that song from the past you overheard at the supermarket the other day that returned you to a time and place in your life when you were making out with your first “love”. When you are writing your story, include that detail; perhaps words from the song as they drift in and out of your experience.
I am going to refer you to Chapter One in Clive Matson’s book, on “Image Detail”. He explains image detail in a precise, descriptive, engaging and educational way.
WRITING PROMPT: What is a flashback song for you? One that when you hear it transports you to another time and place? Claim the song and a memory that it evokes and write about the whole experience in vivid detail. Paint the picture with words. Who were you then, who were you with, what article of clothing was a favorite? Were you at the beach in southern California, in a windstorm on the high desert, in the back seat of a car–what kind of car? Was there a smell that prevailed or a noise that intruded? Imagine your reader and take him/her there using sensory (of the senses) words and make the experience come alive.
Ah, time travel!