Detail

As a writer, you can make your narrative believable in several ways. In the following examples, our student writers convince us that they are telling the truth by providing concrete detail, precise action, appropriate language, honest emotion, and documentable facts.

• Inside knowledge—Readers like to be let into worlds that they have seen only from the outside. Often the small details let them in. In the following passage, Sue shows us what she knows as an experienced filler of salad bars:

I could fill three crocks in one trip, unless it was something messy like beets or applesauce. It took time to refill those because they splashed.

In the next passage, Stephany, who worked summers on an egg farm, teaches us about a job few of us knew existed, candling eggs:

Candling is easy. All you have to do is take four flats of somebody's eggs and spin a hundred of them in front of a bright light to look for cracks. Then I count the number of cracked eggs and write it down on my candling sheet next to the egg picker's name.

• Action—Narrative writing includes action that convinces us the writer has been where he or she claims to have been. Here, Kate describes her judo instructor's demonstration of a hold in class:

He grabs the student around the neck, holding the head tight with the elbow and shoulder. The extended arm is pulled in and the instructor also holds it in position. As the student struggles to get free of the hold, it only tightens.

• Authentic language—Convincing narrative shows people talking in rhythms of speech that sound believable. In the following passage, Kathy recreates her first day working at a supermarket, and we can hear her talking:

I can't believe it, I actually started work at Wilson's today—my first job! They hired me as a cashier, but now they tell me I'll be bagging and keeping the strawberry bin full, at least for a while. I guess they want me to become familiar with their system and working with people before they train me to run a register.

• Emotion—Feelings are part of remembered experience. In the following passage, Bobby describes both his own and his father's emotion in a tension-filled automobile:

"I can hardly see the road, it's raining so hard!" my father yelled. . . . Sensing the nervous frustration in my father's voice, I felt a chill that came from knowing that my cool, calm, collected father was in a state of panic.

• Facts and figures—Narrative often gains in credibility the same way that more objective writing does, with believable data. Jeff has conducted research about the battery factory in which he has worked and, at one point, tells us the following:

With sixteen manufacturing plants and 5,800 employees, Johnson Controls is the largest of five major competitors in the country.

• Figurative language—Narrative is often strengthened when the writer makes a telling analogy, simile, or metaphor that makes us see the story more vividly (remember Annie Dillard's weasel "thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon"?). In the following example, Paul, working on a farm, describes the first time he was shown how to butcher lambs:

I looked up when I heard a PLOP. The warm hide had fallen to the floor like a wet towel. The lamb now glistened as the gelatinous fatty tissue reflected the bright shop lights.

These examples convince me that the writers knew what they were talking (writing) about; in each case, I'm ready to hear more.

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