You all know by now how much I enjoy writing lessons by Barry Lane. I've realized I'm not alone in this - you seem to enjoy them as much as I do. So, here's one of my favorite Barry Lane lessons, taken from After The End:
"If I were to tell you that the maple tree outside there on the playground just said to itself, 'I'm sick of being a tree. I think I want to be a person now,' and if I told you that maple tree got up and is now sprinting down Interstate 89, what would you say?"
We would all say No Way! Not possible. Right? Barry Lane agrees that the initial response would be that trees don't run. So...
"OK, OK. But what if I said, 'The maple tree decided it didn't want to be a tree anymore and is running down Route 89 and there is a little boy named Seth chasing after it and a blue Chevy Cavalier wagon. And it just stepped on my 1979 Toyota Liftback, crushing the box of Twix candy bars I was saving to bring to class tomorrow.' What if I were to say, 'There is a cat up in the tree, and the fire department is chasing after it, and that cat is howling like a wolf on the highest branch, and the principal, Mrs. Stewart, has lassoed it with an orange extension cord and tied it to the bumper of bus number ten.' If I could tell you enough details, so that you begin to imagine something exact and real about this runaway tree, you might, you just might, go to the window and look. That's What writers do. They make you go to the window and look."
According to Barry Lane, we should think of the details of our writing as walls, not as wallpaper. Details are not decoration. They are part of a story's bones. They are the best tools a writer has to bring writing into focus and find deeper meaning. He says they should not be ends in themselves but should serve to bring to light the writer's larger vision.
How do you view the function of details?