The Devil is in the details

“There’s THAT woman…” 

That was one of the first things I heard this morning as I was getting ready to board a train.  The strange sentence was spoken by an elderly man who was every bit as strange as his comment. 

I won’t speculate why he said “that” the way he did, but it stank of judgmental bitterness.  What I will comment on was his amazing eye for detail.  THAT woman was a man with long hair (and a beard). 

Surely most of us pay better attention to details than that….  Don’t we? 

Five minutes ago I was talking with a female agent as we walked down the hall.  We had been talking about her lunch, which was MUCH better than mine.  As we went to our different squad rooms, I told her that she looked sharp in her outfit.  Her response?

“Thanks, you enjoy your lunch too.”

Okay, so she was busy thinking about how lunch, or her case, or anything else OTHER than what I was saying.  The guy this morning was busy trying to figure out when the train was going to arrive.  They were both busy, which is a perfectly good explanation for why they didn’t pay attention to their surroundings. 

Do we pay better attention when we are not quite so busy?

Not necessarily.  I remember a recent fishing trip.  After having spent most of the morning getting my line wet, with only snags and missed strikes as a reward, I went back to my truck.  Once at my truck, I noticed a pair of Bald Eagles sitting in a tree, watching the water nearby.  They were amazing.

I watched the large pair of birds as they sat no more than 30 feet from the ground.  A truck pulled up, and a father got out with his two kids to throw some trash away.  They were closer to the eagles than I was.  Surely they would see the birds.

No.  The father and his two young boys soon drove off.  But what’s the big deal?  Those are just minor details to a much bigger picture.

How often do I, as a writer, miss seeing something and screw up on the details?  It could be a killer scene for my work-in-progress, poor spelling in a manuscript I’m getting ready to send out, or something in a Query Letter to an agent (with the wrong agent’s name).  What’s the big deal?

Do I keep my eyes and mind open for any details that might somehow enhance my writing, feed my visuals, or give that special funk to a sensory experience that makes what I am writing sound legitimate?  Do I watch for details?

If I know what adipocere (corpse wax) smells like, if I am able to point out the fresh-looking blood around a fracture in a hyoid bone, along with small ruptures in the white of the eyes, and say this can indicate pre-mortem strangulation, then maybe these types of visuals (however unsavory) might allow me to paint a more vivid scene.

If a father could have told his sons about a pair of large Bald Eagles, he could have been able to clearly articulate the look on a child’s face as it shifted from the mundane to amazement and wonder. 

Autopilot is a dangerous mode for me.  I might miss some detail that could make my next paragraph really catch fire, or I could send another Query Letter to the wrong agent.  The devil is in the details.

How are you with details?     How do you keep a sensory experience alive so you can write about it at a later time?


8 comments on “The Devil is in the details

  1. Oh, gaaaah! My mind wanders to places not even I plan to take it. There are times I stare straight at a person while they’re speaking to me and I’m off in my imaginary world dropping my laptop in a mud puddle.

    It’s even worse when my mouth is moving without benefit of an engaged brain. *shudder*

    I try to remember to stop, think, and take a snapshot of the moments throughout the day. It’s lovely when I remember to do it. I’m certain I’d have an investigator wanting to drop me in a mud puddle if I ever witnessed a crime.

    When I write, I often have to close my eyes, visualize the scene and type (read: typo) my way through a detailed description of scene, action, reaction.

    I does surprise me, Zack, that people in your line of work aren’t on full-alert for details 24/7.

  2. zkullis says:

    Hi Gloria.
    It surprised me too. You better believe I’m not going to let her forget it. 😉

    It can de tough, especially when as a society we are brought up with this tendency. For example: How many times have we asked somebody how they are doing, only to walk away, not expecting a real answer?

    It’s as if details are shunned. (I’m going to ask you how you are doing, but only to observe social norms, and not because I care about your details.)

    • My personal favorite in the social blather arena is “what are you up to?”

      “Oh, about 5’2″. How about you?”

      • zkullis says:

        Oh yeah, that’s a good one.

        The Chinese have developed a way around this social nightmare. I know it sounds like the start of a joke, but it isn’t. The greeting “Ni hao” is used when you are being polite, and are not really interested in the response. “Ni hao má” is used when they really want to know how you are doing.

  3. Jenny Hansen says:

    Social blather peeve #1: “How YOU doing?” (In that Joey-esque voice.) Gah! I met a co-worker friend of my hubby’s at a party and that was literally all he said to me – like 10 times. Ouch.

    Love the post…you’re doing good things over here. 🙂

  4. zkullis says:

    I have a buddy that did that for years!

    Social blather peeve #1: “What’s up” every time they bump into you. This is the third time you have seen me in the past 4 hours…. Can we limit these empty expressions to once a day?

  5. That chick on the train? Was she really hot? If so, it was me. 😉

    My pet peeve is when folks say: S’up?

    How about you actually CARE and ask a specific question which indicates you know anything about what has been going on with my life?

    *steps off soapbox*


    • zkullis says:

      I thought you looked familiar! 😀

      This is the way I look at it: If you don’t care about how I am doing, or what is going on with my life, don’t bother saying anything more than “Hi”. When you hint that you care (asking how I’m doing is such a hint), it elevates our relationship.

      But when I see that you don’t really care, it trashes that elevated relationship and turns into a negative.

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