Telling a story to which another might listen or read couldn’t be all that hard I reasoned, graduating from high school with the ambition to write the great American novel. But who, at 18, has a story worth reading?
Jane Austen, maybe.
I was no Jane Austen.
Nor did I have the respect for the situation into which I was born and grew up that shaped her animated
description of life in her times. So busy was I to leave my early times, I paid little thought to all that gone into shaping 18 years of one life, and all the lives mine intersected. Busy people miss the details of life that are the strands in stories others like to read.
Details, ample or sparse, are the reason we keep turning pages to discover an author’s point. Details teach, delight, and expand our horizons – both the writer’s and the readers’. Proper use of details is how we get from one-dimensional characters on a page to a three-dimensional person or event that forever changes us. Think of Elizabeth Bennet, or Jean Louise Scout Finch.
How to tell characters’ stories so that others will listen or read is an ability that all the how-to classes in the world can’t teach.
In an essay called “The Fiction Writer and His Country,” Flannery O’Connor put it this way: “The writer can choose what he writes about, but he cannot choose what he can make live.” A tornado would seem a more lively subject [for an aspiring artist] than a nursing sow, but only if you can make it live. If you’re an artist, you do well to ask yourself: what can you make live? (Jonathan Rogers)
But, the writer who knows or imagines the details . . . the writer who knows that words, arranged, rearranged – edited – gets at the heart as surely as music and painting makes alive characters that can change the world. Think of Shakespeare, or Harriet Beecher Stowe, or C. S. Lewis.
Time well spent is time spent remembering details — You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories. — Stanislaw Lec