“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?