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The Devil's in the Details
Small oversights can pull people out of your story, so making an effort to get even the most inconsequential things right can reap big rewards.
This is part of my “Art of Noticing” series, in which I learn, find, or discover the things around me that usually go unnoticed and turn them into an endless source of creative inspiration.
Today, I learned that a filtered water pitcher won’t fit into a mini-fridge. It’s a dumb detail, but it made me think about how getting “dumb details” wrong can tank a story before it starts.
My son started college this year. Because dorm water sucks, he wanted me to pick up a water pitcher to keep in the provided mini-fridge. But guess what? It didn’t fit. We opted for a filtered water bottle.
Story over. Why would you, dear reader, possibly care?
Because it’s not about water pitchers. It’s about details. In one story, I got the year of the World Cup wrong, and readers called me on it, saying that would never happen … and I understood right there that my mistake had pulled them out of the story. Another time, a writer I work with put a safety on a Glock handgun … and there was no safety, in real life, on that gun. Again, the reader was pulled from the magical, unreal world of the story.
When you are creating a world, what seems like a small oversight can end up being a big deal if it moves a reader into critical-thinking mode. If you don't check the size of a fridge before buying a pitcher — or if a writer doesn’t double-check the features of a real-world object their characters are taking for granted — it breaks the spell.
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Here's how this "noticing" can benefit my stories and art:
Obeying Research and Grounding
Whether it's writing or drawing, there are details in everything … and that includes the incredibly mundane stuff. If you get mundane things wrong (like I did once, by having a wine aficionado put a bottle of Zinfandel in a cold fridge), it’ll make the readers who know Zinfandel should be served at room temperature, for instance, move from reader to left-brain critic.
The boring stuff sometimes matters more than the big stuff. Your audience will think: If they can’t even get this little thing right, why should I trust them on the big stuff?
Building a Bond with the Audience
Every story, every artwork, is a like idea-sharing between the creator and the audience. If you make small mistakes, it weakens that bond because the ideas no longer match. They might think: I live in a world where the World Cup happens on this year and this year, but this writer person is in a world where it’s on different years.
Getting the details right is how we honor a reader’s trust, letting them immerse unimpeded. It’s how we stay in the same world.
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