Friday, June 28, 2013

Every story is like a bridge between author and reader. Every story is an attempt to make a connection. And though it might seem like being as general as possible would allow a story to reach the most people, that's actually the opposite of the truth.

Readers connect with specifics.


In other words, we like details. We don't want to read about "the girl who went to the beach." We want to read about "the sweet child with hair as golden as the sand, who spent the day digging holes in search of those tiny clams that skitter down into the earth every time the tide rolls away."

Even if the details don't match our personal experiences, they paint a better picture, and it's those pictures that stay in our minds, that remind us of our own picture-memories.

A great example of this is the very-short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst, a bittersweet tale about a boy and his sickly younger brother. From the very first paragraph, Hurst pulls us into his world with a detailed description of the setting:

"The flower garden was stained with rotting brown magnolia petals ... the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle."

Not only do they paint an incredible picture, but the words "rotting" and "empty cradle" also set the tone and foreshadow the tragic ending.

The Witch of Duva (The Grisha, #0.5)
Leigh Bardugo (of SHADOW AND BONE fame) is also a master of specifics. In her (free!) story "The Witch of Duva," Bardugo writes:

"Nadya tried to get her mother to eat what little food they had, giving up portions of turnip and potato, bundling her mother’s frail body in shawls and seating her on the porch in the hope that the fresh air might return some appetite to her. The only thing she seemed to crave were little cakes made by the widow Karina Stoyanova, scented with orange blossom and thick with icing."

Doesn't your mouth water just reading that?

And the magic of specificity works on more than just nature or food. You can find it -- you should find it -- in the action, dialogue, and everything in between.

The Too-Clever Fox (The Grisha, #2.5)This is from another Bardugo story,  "The Too-Clever Fox":

"Koja darted forward and nudged her trembling hand once with his muzzle, then slipped back into the wood."

Dart, nudge, trembling, muzzle, slip. Such delicious details.

Many other YA authors do this well. Off the top of our heads, we'd say Rae Carson, Maggie Stiefvater, and Laini Taylor. Who else can you think of that gets specific in their stories? We'd love some recommendations of other books or writers to connect with!

5 comments:

Bookworm1858 said...

This topic makes me think of one of the reasons I love Taylor Swift songs. I know she gets a lot of heat but even though a lot of the details she shares about her personal experiences in relationships in songs differ from mine, I still feel that honesty and I'm easily able to connect.

Sarah Hipple said...

And I loved the sensory details in some of those passages too.

I so frequently forget to add in all the senses, but when I do, I love how rich it can make the descriptions.

Kristan Hoffman said...

@Bookworm1858-
YES! I didn't even think about it in a lyrical context, but you're so right. I love T Swizzle for the same reason. :)

Sandie @TeenLitRocks said...

I think a lot of the authors you described have a lush style to them -- a tone that's more poetic than other authors. Not everyone appreciates that style; some of my good friends prefer more straightforward, conversational writing, but I think when done well, lush prose is amazing and much harder to pull off. In addition to the wonderful authors you mentioned, I love Melina Marchetta and think she does a beautiful job with the sensory details. Guadalupe Garcia McCall writes in verse and is fabulous, and Ruta Sepetys is amazing too.

Kristan Hoffman said...

@Sandie-
You're right, there are definitely more lyrical styles, versus more straightforward or conversational, and perhaps the former lends itself to details. I will say, however, that Leigh Bardugo's writing doesn't really fall into that first category, IMO. She's more in the middle of the two camps, whereas Stephenie Meyer, for example, is more the latter. But even Meyer is good with details -- she just strings them out over more words. And yes, as you said, Marchetta is another great example of that (though somehow her writing comes off quite different from Meyer's, hehe).

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.


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The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Transparent
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
Bitterblue
The Fault in Our Stars
Pretties


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