Details, Details – Don’t skip them

I like it a lot better! It seems ‘meatier’ for lack of a better word.” These are the words of a client who recently finished a revision of her novel along lines we suggested. The resulting change was dramatic and while there were other factors, the difference can be characterized by one word: detail.
Detail is what brings books to life. It is the icing on the cake, the difference between a boring white flour read and one with brightly colored frosting. Here is the first line of Alice Munro’s THE LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN:
“We spent days along the Wawanash River, helping Uncle Benny fish. We caught the frogs for him.”
In those two lines Munro sets up the scene that is to follow. She tells you where (the river), why (fishing) and what the action is (catching frogs for bait). Strictly speaking, it is all she needs to start the book. But then she brings the scene alive with detail:
“We chased them, stalked them, crept up on them, along the muddy riverbank, under the willow trees and in marshy hollows full of rattails and sword grass that left the most delicate, at first invisible, cuts on our legs. Old frogs knew enough to stay out of our way, but we did not want them; it was the slim young green ones, the juicy adolescents, that we were after, cool and slimy; we squished them tenderly in our hands, then plopped them in a honey pail and put the lid on.”
It is all this detail that brings the reader skating along the riverbank, ducking under the low-hanging willows and feeling the sting of those invisible cuts. It is a specific time and place, like no other, and the reader is there along with the still unidentified frog catchers, who are barelegged and young because who but a child would love frog bait enough to squish it?