[MUSIC] After I assign students an exercise I'm always a little shy to ask how did it go? Awful some will say, while others say great this one was easy for me. A lot of beginning writers find that exercises, despite or because of their limits or parameters produce some of their best writing. Exercises teach us by giving us a kind of handicap. In the case of your first assignment, you couldn't resort to all sorts of abstract thinking. You had to stick with the play by play actions of ten seconds. That's hard. That's writing with one hand tied behind your back. Well, again, I'm thinking of the Beckett quote. Remember it? Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again, fail better. I'd like to share a slow motion moment from a student of mine, Emmett Knowlton. It involves a man dipping tobacco. And as the story says, remember smokeless tobacco is addictive. Slow motion moment, Emmett Knowlton. Eames places the tin softly into his right hand. With his left turns the top, lefty loosey. The abrasive warning, smokeless tobacco is addictive rotates upside down. The lid pops free. Inside the tin, the tobacco is wet and smells like air freshener or a dentist's waiting room. Vaguely mintish, fresh like a morning hike in the woods. He lowers his head to the tin and inhales deeply. Calm washes over him. Pulling his head away from the tin, next Eames pauses, left knee ajitter, tongue sloshing like a pendulum, back and forth, and takes a sizable pinch of tobacco from the left side of the tin between his thumb and pointer. It is not the biggest pinch he has ever taken, but certainly not the smallest. Approximately an eighth of the dip inside, were Eames to approximate. Small clusters of tobacco fall from his pinch and back into the tin as he raises his hand upwards and toward his mouth. And as he nears his mouth, he is moving slowly so as to make sure not a smidgen more dip escapes. He pulls with his right hand, the right side of his lips, like he is mimicking a hooked fish at a wedding reception, a go-to dance move. He gives his gums one final slosh for good measure and, his right hand still pulling his lip outward, places the tobacco in front of the teeth on the right side of his mouth, working meticulously like he is sculpting clay to make sure the dip is comfortably and compactly situated along his gumline, which it isn't, still isn't, no, that's not right, until finally it is. Well, there's much to enjoy here, especially, how humorous it is to see how much Eames needs his tobacco and how happy he is to get it, his pleasure. Reading this feels realistic, doesn't it? As if you're peeping in a window on someone's private habits. That's because it's vivid. Notice how the author describes only Eames' actions, the step by step process of getting at what he wants. Today, I thought we'd break down the components of description a little bit more and talk about details. What is significant detail? Well, a detail is the smallest unit of description. It is the specifics in fiction, if there is a bird in a tree, that is a detail. But there is a big difference between a vulture and a chickadee. That is why details are so important and why the selection of detail is cherished by many writers. They know that a great detail is a potent, small, vitamin rich unit of fiction. Okay, but what makes a detail significant? Tell you what, have you ever had a little kid try and tell you a story? Think about it. It's cute right? The way they stand there kind of breathless, shifting from foot to foot. Cute, but very, very hard to follow. They never really start the story in the right place. They totally omit the most important facts of the story. But what I notice most of all when I listen to kids tell or write stories, is that they really don't have a good sense of what makes a detail significant. That's because they don't really know why they are telling you the story. They might be amused or upset but they don't really know what the story's about. Well if you want your fiction to be persuasive. You can't tell it like a kid. You have emphasize some things and not others. You have to shape the meaning of it and make it matter with every little thing you offer. The difference between a vulture and a chickadee is monumental and it totally changes the mood and the meaning of the story world. Let me read you an example of an insignificant detail from Janet helpful guidebook, Writing Fiction. This piece of writing has lots of specific detail but none of it seems to matter, listen. Terry Landon, a handsome young man of twenty-two, was six foot four and broad-shouldered. He had medium-length thick blond hair and a natural tan, which set off the blue of his intense and friendly long-lashed eyes. Can you picture Terry Landon in your mind's eye? I can. He looks like a Ken Barbie which means he looks like a generic decent-looking white man with almost nothing to individuate him. It's as if the author of the text is trying to keep me from getting any real feel for Terry at all. It reminds me of that great Lily Tomlin line. I have always wanted to be somebody but now I see I should have been more specific. Insignificant detail is not only boring but it's counterproductive. The reader's reading mind is always trying to find meaning, to synthesize, to connect the dots. Insignificant detail is a bit like using the wrong bait. After biting once or twice, the intelligent reader will just lose interest.