hot tub in a walk-in closet

IMG_2577Okay, here’s the thing. I got carried away in my post about the detail hunt. When I started writing it, I just wanted to write about how hard it was to catch details and maybe generate a discussion about where all the good ones were hiding and how other people came up with details.

I didn’t plan on writing about meaning, just about how to end up with a stack of index cards, each one bearing a detail, that I could thumb through when I started writing something new. So you see, I didn’t go into enough detail about the cards. In fact, I’m not even sure I mentioned them.

However, now I want to write about meaning.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines detail as:

1a: “a small or subordinate particular.”

1b: “such a particular, considered (ironically) to be unimportant.”

2a: “small items or particulars (esp. in an artistic work) regarded collectively.”


Details are like thermoses; they work both ways. As in,

That’s just a detail OR it’s all in the details.

So how does something that can be defined as unimportant acquire meaning?

Sue William Silverman wrote in Fearless Confessions:

“Maybe I’d find it easier to write if I were more aware of the meaning in my day-to-day life. But I’m not. Only when I write do I discover what my story means, what my metaphors are. In college, the maroon scarf was only a scarf!”

Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction:

“A detail is concrete if it appeals to one of the five senses; it is significant if it also conveys an idea or a judgment or both…The windowsill was shedding flakes of fungus-green paint is concrete and also conveys the idea that the paint is old and suggests the judgment that the color is ugly.” 

What we want is a detail that tells us something, either immediately or later. This is why it’s often referred to as “the telling detail.” A detail is not “just a detail” when it goes to work for you.

IMG_2502On Wednesday I received a critique of a story from one of the people in my writing group. She suggested I delete a line about a coat because “it didn’t add to the story.” I thought, good point. Then I thought, I wonder why I put it in there–twice. With Monday’s post in mind, I thought maybe the solution is not deleting it but making it work for me–making it produce the echo I was writing about when I had intended to write about a stack of index cards.

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word journey

img_1290Do you ever have that thing where for some reason you notice a word and then it’s everywhere?  In each of the books you’re reading.  Somebody says it on TV.  It’s on the first page of The New York Times.  The person reading your novel uses it.

Well, last week it happened to me.  And the word was resonant, along with its little family.

resonant: “adj. 1 (of sound) echoing; resounding; continuing to sound; reinforced or prolonged by reflection….” (OAD).  Then there’s the verb, to resonate: “to produce or show resonance.” (OAD) Which takes us to the noun, resonance: “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection or synchronous vibration.”  (There’s a special definition for mech., chem., and physics, but nothing for literary.) also adds for to resonate: to evoke a feeling of shared emotion or belief.

The book I’m reading now, Plant Dreaming Deep, May Sarton:  “I had not heard an oriole since I was a child; in my agitated state these notes fell with an extraordinary resonance.  I felt reassured. It seemed, in fact, like a sign.”

The New York Times, January 28, 2009, Michiko Kakutani:  “In his most resonant work, Mr. Updike gave ‘the mundane its beautiful due,’ as he once put it….”

On Friday, in another book I’m reading, An Accidental Light, Elizabeth Diamond: “Place names resonate with me, like a language returning.”

On Saturday, Jim Nance asked Mean Joe Green about his famous 1980 Super Bowl commercial: “Did you think this would resonate with so many people?”

And then again last night, in a poem, “If See No End In Is,” Watching the Spring Festival, Frank Bidart:  (looking back at a life) “it is a vast resonating chamber…”

“Let your words resonate for the reader,” she said, by way of a suggestion.  Which is what, I suppose, started me on this little word journey.  If I needed to do it, I needed to know more about it. 

And this is what I’m taking with me:  Good writing sends out little waves of familiarity.  It connects readers to the past or lies waiting for them in the future. It echos through their hearts. It continues to be felt over and over again, like certain words.

I hope this post resonates with you.  There now, I’ve used it in a sentence.

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collaboration and commitment

The Oxford American Dictionary defines collaboration as

“working jointly, especially in a literary or artistic production.”

It defines commitment as

“the process or an instance of committing oneself.”

And committing as

“pledging or binding oneself to a certain course”

Something different for today–a movie. 

This summer one of my sons, Bobby Martin, was in Paris taking a film class.  I had the opportunity to collaborate with him on a short film.  I had the easy part–throwing out ideas.  He had the hard part–doing all the work.  He selected the music and mapped the scenes.  He did the filming and the editing.  Nevertheless, he graciously added my name to the credits.   The film is two minutes and forty seconds.  Turn up the volume and enjoy.



The Oxford American Dictionary defines this beautiful sounding word as

  1. like prose; lacking poetic beauty.
  2. unromantic; dull; comonplace.

The top three definitions of prose are

September 30, 2008  Columbus, Georgia

September 30, 2008 Columbus, Georgia

  1. the ordinary form of the written or spoken language
  2. a passage of prose
  3. a tedious speech or conversation

A prosaist is either

  1. a prose writer; or
  2. a prosaic person

If someone calls you a prosaist, it could go either way.  Writers of fiction are often called prose writers to distinguish them from writers of poetry.  I personally don’t want anything further to do with this word.

For anyone who loves words and shapes, check out this very cool site: