The Telling Detail
Since we’ve been on this topic of Showing vs. Telling, I wanted to highlight an important tool at your disposal when you’re working on “showing.” Ironically, it’s called the Telling Detail.
The Telling Detail is a word, phrase, or image that helps the reader “see” what you’re describing. It must be precise and illuminating, and to some extent, unique. Its uniqueness is often what makes it so telling.
It can be any specific detail. It can be a sight, sound, touch, taste or smell. It can be a specific thought or action. It’s one thing that has meaning and says a lot with a very few words. It pulls the reader into the experience of the story. The right detail at just the right time connects your reader with your character.
Here are some examples of nice telling details from your contest entries:
Angie Farnsworth gave us “cheap trailer walls” and “worn linoleum.”
Robbie Iobst showed a nice contrast between the “family portrait hung on our living room wall” and the reality of the family in the living room. Her “Barbie convertible” is a nice telling detail as well.
Christy’s description of a “delicate, rolling meadow leading to the manor” told us a lot about this character’s childhood home, as did the mention of “sheep” and a “cherry tree.”
Anonymous (Oct. 18, 6:05 pm) described “All the little things it takes to live—the loose change for the laundrymat, socks and underwear, deodorant…” Very concrete and visual.
Cosimod showed us a group of girls getting ready for prom with “glitter glistening on their tan faces.” Very high school.
Look around your home or office, and try to identify some things that would be a “telling detail” about you. There might be a desk, or hundreds of books, and those would certainly tell us something, but they don’t set you apart from any other writer. What do you see that would be more “telling” about who you are?
There are details… then there are telling details. Practice noticing the telling details about people and situations as you go about your daily life, and it will start to come naturally for you to incorporate them into your writing.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.