He was just an elderly Japanese man eating a Dorito. But somehow this image remained with me long after our boat ride. I was surprised when my 14 year old mentioned this to me later that day.
It intrigued him too.
“Mom, did you see how slow he was eating that chip?” Spoken well for a 14 year old boy that can down a bag of chips when I glance the other way.
It was such a small, insignificant detail in the whole scheme of the day. The Harbor Tour of the San Diego bay was a relaxing two-hour eye feast. We paid our significant amount of money for the tickets; saw some pretty significant sites: military boats, destroyers, boat building factories afloat, a freeway suspended over water. We saw sailboats, seals, and big deal yachts, and a popular eatery for fish meals.
I felt lots of things: wonderment and awe, a whirly twirl in my stomach as we saw a sting ray in its natural habitat, the joy of sailboats (it’s an obsession), and depending on the direction of the boat- hot, cold, hot, cold, hot, just right. And I felt the wind realign my facial features as it attempted an uprooting of my hair. That felt awesome.
Yet, in all of this, the somber dark-skinned Dorito man is the image I can’t shake.
I merely passed him as I stepped off the tour to solid ground. Yep, just a brief seven second encounter and it’s locked in our minds. We were probably the only ones in that chunk of tourists that filed this image. It wasn’t that significant. Others simply walked on. Maybe they saw but didn’t take note.
I know there were things that I glazed over… like the destroyer boat. Meh.
Don’t Overlook the Insignificant.
When it comes to writing we want a solid structure. Yes. We want to see the big picture and feel lots of things. But if you want to take it to another level and leave an impression don’t forget to sprinkle in some of the small, seemingly insignificant details. It is these tidbits that will explode your writing.
When I first started writing this was my biggest oversight. I would focus so hard on the big structure that I forgot to mention the insignificant. Of course they were only insignificant to me because they were petty to the storyline. And let’s face it, more work. Yet, I didn’t realize how these details would connect me to my audience and make my writing take off.
Top 3 Reasons You Should Write Insignificant Details
Reason #1: Insignificant details enhances your character and what she thinks.
I was not intrigued by the lack of speed for the chip chomping like my son was. My image cementing moment was for an entirely different reason. What would I think of a foreign crazed snack? Would I go home and weasel this food experience in my conversation? Would I like the flavor of it? And why did he look so sad? Was he lonely? I wanted to hug him. My rush of thoughts somehow captured this moment solidifying something in my heart. I put myself in his shoes. Put yourself in your characters shoes and take notice of something insignificant.
Reason #2: Insignificant details takes the ordinary and amps it up.
Everyone on that boat saw the same things I saw. We saw the things that were pointed out to us, though I’m certain we would have taken notice of them without the loudspeaker. Seeing something that someone else doesn’t see takes the average and deepens the meaning.
Reason #3: Insignificant details connects you to your audience.
These details help your readers to identify with what you say. Whether they agree or not it will strike an emotion that naturally helps enhance your storyline. Scatter more insignificant details if you want a connection to your audience. Hm? And who doesn’t want that?
Where could your writing use a little more insignificant details? And what are you going to do about it?
Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at howperkyworks.com.