"We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing."
That idea comes from one of my favorite books about writing, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I think it applies to all kinds of writing, even scrapbook journaling, because honesty and openness are qualities that create good writing. Coming to love the details—including lots of specific ones—does, too, and that’s our topic today: getting the details into the stories you tell.
Details make your journaling come alive because they give the reader something specific to imagine. They give us a place to attach our senses, making the reading experience that much more vivid.
What do I mean by "details"? I mean getting the specifics down, and using the word that comes closest to capturing the true meaning of what you want to say. It means including words that appeal to the things we can experience with our bodies—the way a thing tastes, for example; not just good watermelon, but juicy watermelon, or sweet, or ice-cold, or even watermelon made salty by the sweat on your lip.
Here’s another example of including details. You might write:
We had such a good time when we went out to dinner to celebrate Amanda’s birthday. Good food plus good friends equals a great birthday celebration.
Basic journaling there; it conveys something about the event. But it’s hard for a reader to picture the event until you write with specific details:
We celebrated Amanda’s seventeenth birthday by going to dinner at her favorite little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant, NYCP. Gabby was there, and Sophie and Tyler and of course her boyfriend Chad. Fettuccini Alfredo, garlic bread, and cannolis might not be the traditional way to celebrate, but an evening laughing over good food with awesome friends is perfect.
Sure—the second example is longer. It might take up a little bit more space on your layout. But the details (the name of the restaurant and guests, the food that was eaten, and the year of her birthday) help paint a much more complete picture for the reader.
It really is all in the details!
Inspired by September's gallery, here are some layouts that use details to tell the story more completely.
The journaling on Katie's layout, "Little House," is full of specific details about her grandparents' house: the foods they ate, TV shows they watched, celebrations they had. Her writing makes the little house come alive with memory; it left me itching to write about my own house:
In my journaling, I wrote about both what I wish I could change about my house and what I wouldn't change for the world, and about the intersection between house & home. Some of the details I included: the year-to-date count of Christmases we've had in this house (19!), the list of changes I wish I could make, the fact that I planted my daffodil bulbs the year I was pregnant with my daughter and the tidbit that my irises came from my dad. The details give a more complete image of my emotional connection to my house; the types of details you include will always lead back to the emotions you have about your topic.
Vivan's layout, "A Day to Remember," includes the details about long-ago vacations to the beach when she was a child. The little snippets of story—the sand in the sandwiches, the seaglass collecting, the digging of sand mansions—relate entire summers' worth of simple vacation memories. Her layout made me want to make a layout about my own childhood vacations, but until I can get some photos from my mom I made a layout about a slightly more recent trip:
This is about a family trip to San Diego we took almost six years ago. I took a broad approach to the trip, trying to summarize it all on one layout, but I still used specific details. I wrote about one memorable thing from each place we went to, focusing in on one small piece of a much larger picture. Then, in the narrow journaling space, I wrote the Sorensen-family-favorite "good samich" story, using details like where and when we were eating and the exact menu item that inspired all that cuteness.
Lastly, I was inspired (and touched!) by Celeste's lovely "Here's the Story" layout. She writes about her parents' experiences with cancer and how they have affected her life as well. Medical issues are hard to journal about because they are so wrapped up in how we feel about our loved ones, but they are still important to document. (Even if you only look at it from a medical history perspective.) Using specific details—dates, the name of the diagnosis, the doctors, or the medical facilities—along with the truth behind your response to the experience helps you work around the fear a little bit.
Emily S. shared this layout, about her daughter's early medical experiences:
In this layout by Jennifer:
we read about specific places, medicines, and treatments for her son Rowan's reoccuring bouts of croup. Those details help us imagine the medical situation through Rowan's eyes while others (the toys she brought, the knowledge she gained) give an image of Jennifer's connection.
I finally scrapbooked about my son Kaleb's heart condition, nearly two years after his diagnosis:
The specifics I included were the family history of aortic valve troubles and some statistics about it, as well as the doctor's name, the date of the diagnosis, and his probable prognosis. Even though it likely will never be a problem for him, Kaleb's bicuspid valve makes me anxious, but journaling about it helped me feel like I have a better grasp on the situation.
So! Here are three journaling challenges. Sometime or other during the upcoming week, write some journaling about the following three topics, trying to focus on adding specific, concrete details to the story:
- Journal about a house
- Journal about a trip you took at least five years ago
- Journal about a medical condition or a disease
Notice I didn't challenge you to make a layout—just to write the journaling. Save it somewhere and make a layout when you're ready. And, as always, let us know, we love seeing what you are working on!