Are You Being Specific Enough?


Do you hate research?  Are you okay with being ‘close enough’?  Does it really matter if you tell us what kind of trees we’re looking at?

Before you answer any of those questions, be sure to remember that small distinctions make a huge difference.

Being specific can separate bad from good from great writing.  Am I looking at a bunch of tall and large trees?  Or am I looking at a forest of towering redwoods?

Yeah, research sucks.  It’s homework, and who in the history of the world has ever liked homework?  Nobody.  But having the right information is important. If you’ve convinced yourself that getting a book 90% right is enough, that you can make up the rest and people won’t notice, you need to get that thought out of your head immediately.  Because it’s the details that often make the book.

Details are what lend authenticity to your story and make it real.  You story should have enough specific information in it that your readers think you can’t possibly be making it up.

In Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, he says, “We must remember that reading is as much about education as it is entertainment, and even small flourishes can help serve this function and add a whole new dimension to a text.”

If you take this to the extreme it’s bad news, but if you’re careful about it your reader will want to come back for more.  How many times have you read a spy book and thought about how cool it is to learn about the world of espionage?  How many times have you read something with a little science in it and been happy to finally understand how it works?  Can you remember the last time you actually appreciated how master thieves operate, what you call the sail at the front vs. the back of a ship, how the law works, what politics and culture are like in small towns and foreign countries, why your mind or body work the way they do?

There is a ton of information sprinkled into the fiction we read.  We don’t consciously notice that we’re learning, but we are.  And we like it.

So be specific.  Teach your reader something.  Make your book real.  Put in the work to go all the way, because if you don’t, your reader will notice the 1% that’s wrong instead of the 99% that’s right.

Happy writing – as a reward for making it to the end of a post I wrote while watching football, here’s a color thesaurus courtesy of Ingrid Sundberg to help you correctly name any color imaginable.

A Dark October


October is a special month.

October is a month for quick breakfasts in a warm kitchen.  For foggy windows and dew covered grass.  For dark mornings that smell like fresh rain.

October days are sunny without the heat.  They’re days where everyone is on the go and has somewhere to be.  Days that aren’t too cold yet.  Days when we don’t have to hunch our shoulders and stare at the sidewalk until we reach the next doorway and pass back into the warmth.

October has a little bit of everything.

3 Things I Challenge Everyone To Do This Month:

1.  Learn something from another writer and actually apply it.  So many times I’ll read a good book on the craft of writing and never apply any of the practices because I forget them as soon as I put the book down.  I open my computer and revert back to how I always write.  Try to read about writing, find something you like, and apply it immediately.  A great idea will stay an idea unless you use it.

2.  Whether you’re planning for NaNoWriMo or working on a 500,000 word magnum opus (please god tell me you aren’t doing this), try to start, finish, and edit an entire story this month.  Going through the process from beginning to end will teach you more about writing than almost anything else.  It can be a 300 word story, a chapter in a book, a memoir, whatever.  Start, finish, and edit it in the month of October – you don’t have to spend too much time on it.

3.  Write somewhere you’ve never written before.  If you write at home, go to Starbucks.  If you write at Starbucks, go to the park.  Bring your computer to work and spend 30 minutes writing at your desk instead of going home at the end of the day.  If you write inside go outside, if you write in the middle of a field go sit on a bench downtown.  See what happens, even if it’s just for fun.

In October the days get shorter and the dark creeps in.  But as the sun starts to set, you might just discover an idea that never would have shown its face in the light of day.

“At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet an hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.” – H.P. Lovecraft

What are your goals this month?  What are you working on? What did you do at this time last year, both in writing and in general?

Happy October everyone.  Don’t forget to start thinking of Halloween costumes ahead of time.

Vincent Van Gogh Quote