... rub in details
This is an essay that I put in the Melrose Mirror a couple of years ago.
I am prompted to put this essay again because I want to rub in that details
create a story. I am going to assume that there are readers who will allow
me to instruct them as writers who want to sharpen their writing skills..
Details, details, details
This is a book by Kent Nelson from Smith Peregrine Books, “In the Middle
from Nowhere”, C. 1991. These stories are especially lyrically fluent.
I want to focus on a story near the end, “Invisible Life.” In using this
story I want to show how details will enrich a tale.
In the middle of this story, “The day was warm and sunny, and after lunch
I took Tracia into the woods behind the house to explore with her the places
I remembered from my own childhood. A dark stream ran through the
woodland, and the leaves above us were yellow green against the fast moving
clouds and blue sky. I pointed out, as my father had to me, the warblers
darting among the oaks and maples. The stream swirled lazily over rocks and
sodden logs, and for a while we sat on a boulder and watched the water flow
... My father had demonstrated the existence of the invisible teaming life
by taking a sample of creek water and showing me slides under a microscope…
wriggling cilia which waved in the droplets of water.”
This is the origin of the title story, “Invisible Life” but it is not clear
why this title and where it sits in the story. He was visiting the home of
his parents where the father had recently died. The elder father was a science
teacher at Bryn Mawr. Maybe the title was intended to tip his hat to his
The story is about Tom and Allison where Allison has just announced her
intention to go to graduate school. This was despite the fact of two young girls
and a son, just born only months before. Allison expects that Tom will look after
the three children while she is away at graduate school. Further, Tom’s mother
seems to support Allison’s ideas.
It is not my intention to tell this story; rather I want to try to give the details
of what makes this a good story as in the lines above and these.
The porch light was on outside, and I could see the dead spring grass and stark
branches alive with buds in the warm and misted night air. At the same time,
my mother’s reflection shimmered in the dark widow-shadowy, confused color
mixed with details in the yard beyond. From her expression, I couldn’t tell
whether she was gauging herself in the glass or merely thinking.”
We will learn later that Tom’s mother has great influence in Allison’s decision.
Here are a few more lines:
The house seemed still for a moment, as it often been lately-just a pause barely
notable, like a sigh between one word and another.” And, “I stood and went to
the window. A dog passed through the edge of light near the street, his legs
clicking and his head down on some scent.”
Consider these lines about Allison:
Her eyes were relaxed, her mouth slack, in a half expectant smile. I noticed for
the first time that she had recently cut her hair, and though it was still unkempt,
it no longer covered a childhood scar at her temple.”
Don’t you feel you can reach out and touch her face?
Allison has settled in her studies at Harvard and Tom, the stoop, has followed
her there. I took a wrong turn at the traffic circle on route 2 and ended up on
Memorial Drive. Darkness was settling in, and with the sun behind me, the river
looked icy, bleak against the far bank and the silhouetted skyline of Boston in
the distance. I weaved though Harvard Square and west again on Massachusetts
Avenue. When I found her house not far from Porter Square, Allison was not there.”
This story closes:"A slight breeze stirred snow from the trees, and it trickled
down through the branches onto my face. My footsteps crackled leaves under
the snow, and once out of sight of the house, I paused and listened … my father
had often taken me here, even in winter, pointing the small details-woodpeckers’
holes or tracks of mice. The stream swirled lazily over the rocks and black logs,
and I sat on a snowy boulder and watched the water flow.”
So the story ends and I don’t like the characters. Tom is spineless and Allison is
too arrogant for my taste. But don’t you see how details liven up a story.
Originally published November 07, 2014..
September 2, 2016