Writing Around the Details

Some details simply aren’t necessary. You don’t have to provide a detailed summary of injuries sustained to characters, don’t have to be or consult with a doctor for a prognosis. Those details can sometimes be more detrimental to a story than helpful to the reader.

A prime example of this is Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter By Design.

For those not familiar with Lindsay’s Dexter series: Dexter is a serial killer who kills serial killers. He mostly targets those guilty of crimes against children, primarily pedophiles who kill children. He is also a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. His foster sister, Deborah, also works for the Miami Police Department.

In Dexter By Design, Dexter and Deborah pay a visit to the home of a suspect. Deborah is stabbed in the process and hospitalized.

Not once throughout the ordeal does Lindsay go into detail about Deborah’s injuries. The only thing the reader knows is that “she lost a lot of blood.”

No medical jargon. No technical mumbo-jumbo. No lengthy explanations about where the knife penetrated, what organs (if any) that may have been affected and no platitudes about how lucky Deborah was.

Instead, Lindsay focuses on the real issue: the relationship between Deborah and Dexter.

Deborah recently discovered Dexter’s secret life and she was processing her feelings about the matter.

Dexter was processing how he felt about his sister. Feelings are something Dexter is always processing, whether he believes he has them or not.

There was already enough going on in the novel without it getting bogged down with medical details regarding Deborah’s injury. Going into those details would have been tedious instead of enlightening. Rather than have the reader stumble through the medical vernacular, Lindsay keeps the important stuff in the forefront while using Deborah’s injury as background drama.

Details about her injury simply aren’t necessary. It is enough to know that Deborah has sustained a potentially life-threatening injury and even more important is how Dexter reacts to it and feels about it. Details about the injury itself would have added insult (pun intended).

It is the foremost job of the writer to keep the story moving, keep the reader interested. Had Mr. Lindsay insisted upon including medical and technical details about Deborah’s injury, not one of those details would have been pertinent to the story. It would have just been information the reader had to slog through to get to the next interesting part.

This doesn’t mean you should forego any research that needs to be done. There are details that are imperative you know something about.

For instance, in the novel I am currently working on, I need to learn more about guns. This will require hands-on research: visiting a firing range, talking to people who are gun enthusiasts and probably handling and shooting a gun as well.

I’m not crazy about guns. But one of my characters is a superior markswoman (that’s right, I said woman). She’s gonna know her gun, know it well and know how to handle it. This is an important detail in the novel and the research must be done.

Guns scare me. I’ve never held one unless you count the childhood water gun. It is imperative that I overcome this, steel my nerves and do that research.

Weigh the importance of your details to your reader. Must they know that a conduit is not only a means of conveying water it also denotes a means of access? Do they really need to know the minute details of an injury or would it suffice they know it is life-threatening? Do they need to know the exact route to get to the buried treasure or is it more important what the characters endure to get there?

While the details can be interesting if they don’t move the story along or make a poignant point it may be best to write around them. Sometimes the how and the why of a thing isn’t as important as how the people affected deal with it.

It isn’t that details don’t matter, they do. As long as you expend the time and energy on the really important details.


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