Years ago when I first fled Lebanon to Dubai after living through the civil war for eight years, I did my best to forget the war. Those days were so painful that I chose to forget, even though I visited my family whenever I had the chance.
It was in Dubai that I took writing courses, joined a writing group, and wrote and published my first book. After I finished writing it I sent the book to NYE for evaluation. I needed the objective opinion of a professional other than my instructor to tell me if the book had any value literally. Amongst other things here’s what the editor had written in his final sentence.
“Great descriptions of the bombing wreckage, poignant details about the human cost.”
‘Poignant details’ after what I had done to forget all that had happened to me during those years, while in reality nothing was lost. At the time of the actual writing of the book even insignificant details came back to me from those days and years.
Someone once said that the mind of the writer remembers best of all those things that seem to have nothing to do with anything, to have no connection to the general flow of events. But we writers know that there’s no such thing as an isolated incident, no such thing as an insignificant detail. Details are remembered precisely because they are important, because they have left something in us. That is why we remember, because they can be put together later.
Life is composed of details. Good fiction includes specific details, that make settings more visual, that add dimensions to characters. In the words of V.S. Pritchett:
“Short stories can be rather stark and bare unless you put in the right details. Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better.”
‘Poignant details’ which suggest vivid images and draw out emotional reaction from the reader. As writers it is our priority to give the readers the details they need to form their own picture and opinion. It is our responsibility to be selective and specific in choosing the exact right word for maximum impact but in such a manner that it is not obvious.
On this subject there’s an anecdote I like to share with you: Director Alan Pakula was once asked to describe Marilyn Monroe. After hesitating for a while he said:
“She was so luscious, you just wanted to take a bite out of her.”