Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blogswap: One thing Shelly learned at Storymakers that nobody taught a class on but everybody talked about.

Today I'm swapping blogs with the fantabulous Shelly Brown. We're both sharing stuff we learned at LDStorymakers last week, but wanted to do it in more exotic locations. For my blog post about how talent is irrelevant, visit Shelly's blog, here.

And, heeerrrre's Shelly!

Aren't we cute together?
One thing I learned at Storymakers that nobody taught a class on but everybody talked about.

It was on keeping your titles succinct. ;) Just kidding.

It was on details.

Hi! I’m Shelly from over at Writing with Shelly and Chad. I write Middle Grade and silly YA. I’ve been friends with Robin before either of us tried to write a single word. We both got to go to LDStorymakers last weekend and took some seriously fabulous classes. We decided to swap our great info on each other’s blogs. So here you go!

But back to the topic at hand: Details!

I’ve always known the details were important but it was just hammered into my head again and again at Storymakers.

First: I had a pitch session.

As I prepped my pitch session I read an article by Molly O’Neill and Michael Bourret on Middle Grade Novels (read it here). They talked about how there is magic in the details. They used my virtual friend Dale Bayse’s Heck as an example. That book is riddled with quirky details that make it hard to confuse for someone else’s work. Giant marshmallow bunnies, pitch-sporks, and ‘limbo’ing demon’s. It really made the story come alive for me.

Since I was planning a pitch for Molly, I was considering this advice and trying to figure out ways to add fun details to my pitch.

In preparation I watched pitch after pitch (online) and I have to admit-
  1. If it’s longer than 60 seconds you have completely lost me. My attention span for memorized plots is really only that long.
  2. If you throw in quirky details or some fun juxtaposition, I’m listening again.

I also went to Molly’s class on settings and she talked about those details that make a setting pop out to the reader. The regional weather, past times, celebrations, religious observances, hangouts, dress, mind set, etc.

Let’s use the visual arts to make the point:

Both of these are city pictures—

Can you see how details make things more interesting?

Second: There were classes that I enjoyed more than others and there was one that I was really struggling through until she told a joke. What woke a sleeping writer/comedian in me was that the joke wasn’t SO clever as it was SO detailed.

To illustrate a point about writing she used examples and one of her examples was used such detailed language it became funny.

To further illustrate what I mean (since I refuse to tell you who or what was said) do any of you follow the comedian Brian Regan? Jim Gaffigan? They, along with many other comedians, understand that you can tell the funny parts of life but when you act out/use examples people REALLY start laughing.

Here is Gaffigan on Cinnabon (a great detail by itself. He could have just said cinnamon rolls.) The Satan bit, the nap, wheelbarrow, beanbag chair, cavity, the plane. Details!

...and this Regan illustrates the same idea

In conclusion: (this feels like a non-fiction/thesis paper. –as opposed to the fiction thesis papers. . . which experience has taught me doesn’t get you a passing grade) The details can sell a book. Are you afraid that your story/summary/query/pitch sounds too ho-hum? Throw in some quirky details, either into the story itself, to breathe some life into it, or pull them from the story and put them in your pitch to make it clear that this isn’t just a drab retelling of something they’ve already heard before.

We like details.

We live our life in details.

We might not remember all of our childhood clearly, but we remember certain details. (I had one of those Fisher Price telephones with the eyes.)

We might not even remember that movie we saw last year but we remember certain details. (Didn’t the mean girl have a black horse or something?)

If your story is void of gripping/intriguing/funny details they might not remember any of it.

So watch for the details in what you live, read, and watch. Absorb them and then use them in your writing.


  1. The Rooty-Tooty Aim and Shooty was hilarious.

    1. And I will never look at a Walkie Talkie the same way again. Quirky details are amazing for sticking in our brains.

  2. Details make ALL the difference!!! And any post that works in Jim Gaffigan is brilliant. Hot Pockets! Thanks Shelly and Robin :)

    1. I ALMOST did the Hot Pockets gag but this one had better details (and he did the 'sounds like a disease' bit at the end of the hot pockets one, so I decided to find one more PG)

  3. Great post, and funny clips you picked. Details really are what make setting/character/ and relationships come to life.

    1. Thanks Heather. I really believe they are.

  4. This.is.FABULOUS! Yes - now I'm bookmarking this one too! But there is so much great information. And yes --- without the details, life is too boring and a pitch... I can see where details would make it much more fun!

  5. Thanks, Shelly, for bringing such good info and fun to my blog today!

    1. Thanks for having me, Robin! It was fun to share my gleened knowledge.

  6. Isn't Shelly awesome? Great points here. *sigh*

  7. I actually taught a class specifically about details at the 2010 & 2011 Storymakers Conference. And the class was fabulous. And detailed.