Monday, June 07, 2010

And . . . I Lied

Okay, so I did want to share one other thing I read in MADE TO STICK. It touches on something I talk about a lot—concrete details.

The authors explain that for an idea to stick, it has to be credible. There are all sorts of ways to gain credibility, through bona fides, experts, celebrity endorsements, and true stories. However the one avenue to credibility that he talks about that has the most relevance to writers is concrete details. It turns out putting in solid, specific details in our writing isn’t just good craft, it’s smart psychology.

He talks about a study done where arguments made using concrete examples are more effective in swaying an audience as to a person’s guilt or innocence. People—readers—respond in a dramatic way to vivid details.

In addition to the obvious way in which this applies to writing—suspending disbelief and making our stories credible—it strikes me that we can also use this in other ways.

In characterization—giving characters, especially secondary characters, some specific, concrete detail that will anchor them in the reader’s mind. Not just a pair of glasses that keep sliding down his nose or a braying laugh, but something much more unique and specific to that individual. Something sticky. ☺

In planting clues and foreshadowing—it strikes me that knowing how people respond to concrete details, we can use that to direct our readers’ attention to the subtle things we want them to notice, but not realize they’re noticing.

How about you? Can you think of a way to use this newfound bit of information in your writing? If so, do feel free to share it in the comments. Hmm. Perhaps I feel a contest coming on...