Slow Down


Why are writers so fond of specific details? Because details amplify emotions. There is very little emotional momentum in the sentence: John was angry. Nor: John was really angry. Nor even: John was really, really, really super angry. On the other hand: John came home, slammed the door, took one look around the living room and said, “Does anyone clean up anything in this house besides me?

The final example has the most emotional momentum, yet the word angry is never mentioned. This is what we call showing and not telling. The author is a like a lawyer, his readers the jury, and his details the evidence. A storyteller’s only currency is feeling, and specific details focus the reader’s imagination on specific feelings. The more specific the details, the greater the focus of feeling, the more likely I will receive the verdict I was seeking.

This works when we aren’t writing as well. Perhaps I am sitting at my desk and I cannot find a scene. I try one way and then another, yet neither works. I know these approaches don’t work because of how forced they feel. I do not like this forced feeling, and I recall that I have felt this way before. I begin remembering the stories I’d written that also felt forced yet I sent out anyway, and then the women I dated because I didn’t want to be lonely, and the jobs I took because I was afraid of being poor. I remember these stories, and girlfriends, and jobs in increasingly specific detail, and soon I feel like a fake, a man who has never said or written or done one genuine thing.

It is not so easy to dismiss this story of Bill the Fake because is it feels absolutely true. I am truly feeling like a fake. Yet in simply thinking, “I feel like a fake,” without any further evidence to back it up, I have already slowed my own emotional momentum. Now I might be able to think, “I want to feel genuine. To feel genuine is to feel interested. To feel interested is to feel curious. What about this scene makes me curious?”

And I am back where I belong, ready to write again.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.