Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Writing Facts in Fiction

This applies just as much to poems as to fiction, plays, whatever.

When you read a piece of fictional writing and there is a specific fact in it, a reference to something that everyone knows or recognises, it makes the writing suddenly more real, more personal to the reader.

Use a visual detail such as the doilies so carefully described in Elizabeth Bishop's poem Filling Station that you can see them and you can see their history too. Did the doilies exist? Did Elizabeth Bishop see them and take out her notebook to jot down some details? I don't know for sure. I'd bet a tankful of unleaded that she did though.

It's the specificity that does it.

Philip Larkin's Whitsunday Weddings has so much specificity, the tim, the colours of the going away clothes. I believe it happened. I feel like I was there too, leaning out of the windows of the hot train. I can almost smell the dust and sunshine.

So be specific. If you mention a dog, tell us the breed. Rotweiler? Labrador? Pooch? If you mention cake, is it Victoria sponge? Swiss Roll? Battenburg? If the place stinks, is it rotten fish? Sewage or exhaust fumes? Think about the five senses and drag the reader alongside.

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