Thursday, January 17, 2013


Week of January 13, 2013: Painting with Words
Thursday, January 17—Detail

We’re continuing our discussion of the elements of voice, and today’s topic is
details. Joyce Sweeney defines details as “the specific elements mentioned in the
work.” A lot of the work of specificity is done with nouns. Specificity always
trumps generalizations. When you generalize you miss the opportunity to add

Generalized sentence:                He ate cereal.
Specific/detailed sentence:         He ate Fruit Loops.
                                                He ate oatmeal.

When you’re working with nouns, you think of making them stronger and/or
making them specific/proper. The chart below shows examples of what I mean:

Stronger Noun
Specific/Proper Noun
chocolate candy
Hershey’s Kisses
Zumba Carpet Gliders
thrift store
Goodwill Store
cake flour
Pillsbury All-purpose Flour

Joyce told us that sometimes you don’t need to describe, you just need to tell. If you tell the name of a teacher named Mrs. Crankster, you’ve already described her. If you say wiener dog, no other description may be necessary. If you write in the shade of a Weeping Willow, you may have painted the picture with the specific noun you chose. Joyce said that relying on nouns to tell details “pulls the reader in and makes them do some of the work. Tell the details (and only enough details) to make readers think.” Of course, as picture book writers, we know that the illustrations will also fill in some of the information and give clues to meaning.

For You To Do:
1. Go on a stronger noun and specific/proper noun hunt through some of your favorite picture books List out the details you find.
2. Read through you latest picture book manuscript. Underline all the nouns. Then go back through your nouns and highlight the ones that are stronger and/or specific/proper. Examine all the nouns not highlighted. What other nouns can you make stronger and/or specific/proper?

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