The discussion of the power of a single detail in episode 152 of The Journeyman Writer podcast reminds me of the consideration of Anton Chekov’s idea of the “telling detail” in the Gotham Writer’s Workshop book Writing Fiction. In the chapter “To Picture in Words” Chris Lombardi gives us insightful ways to think about the power of this kind of detail.
A telling detail does what it says: it tells the essence of what it’s describing… A telling detail can speak volumes in a very short amount of time. They help you achieve a golden mean—enough description to paint the picture, but not so much as to weigh it down.
You’ll know when you’ve found the telling detail: it’s the detail that sticks with you the most.
Until you find that telling detail, however, be generous. As the story in your head starts to move and your hands follow it, try to write it all down, everything that comes to you, especially any sensory detail… Get it all on the page first, and then cut back as needed.
The guidance offered in this chapter is fantastic, especially because I definitely agree this perspective Lani shares in The Journeyman Writer episode 152:
I don’t want anything to be missing in my writing because I can’t do it. I want it to not be there because I chose to not have it there. Because I don’t need it… I want to be able to have a basic skill in description…