Welcome back to my Ingredients for Storytelling series where I will be talking about some of my favorite elements of great stories both on the page and onscreen. As you can see from the title, today’s post will be dedicated to discussing how details can often enrich an already strong storyline.
Why do details matter in the first place?
1. Setting: In my experience as an avid reader and viewer, details about the world characters inhabit as well as details about the characters themselves can make the story itself more relatable and believable to the audience. Take for example, the wide film genre of anime. Anime does an enchanting job of taking ordinary scenes from our everyday lives and re-illustrating them in such a way as to make them seem like beautiful landscapes (e.g. a rainy street corner, the inside of a crowded train station). Yet what makes them so fascinating is the fact that just enough small details from reality are included to make them recognizable to us.
2. Characters: Details about characters are important too. Sometimes including a small fun fact or detail about the protagonist’s habits or personality can make such a big difference in that character’s likability and the ability of the audience to relate to her or him. For example, in the TV show Supernatural, Dean, one of the main characters, loves pie. More than that, not only is the audience informed early on of Dean’s love for pie, but this small but likable and quirky detail is reiterated over and over again through scenes spanning multiple seasons of Dean eating pie. While at first glance, this may seem trivial, by including such a fun aspect of this character’s personality, the screenwriters have made him seem more real. Yes, Dean is (sadly) a fictional character. Yet by giving him mannerisms and details that most people can see mirrored in their friends, people they actually know, or more importantly themselves, the writers have essentially made him more sympathetic and relatable with just one small detail.
3. Plot: In the same way adding details to a setting or characters makes them seem more inhabitable and real, details within a plot can enrich the narrative even further. Take Christopher Nolan’s film Inception for example. Early on in the movie, the audience is told that when entering a dream each individual possesses a totem, or essentially, an object that’s design allows the owner to figure out when he or she is dreaming. While at first, this detail seems relatively minor in relation to the overall plot, by the end of the film it is presented as one of the most important and defining features that influences any viewer’s interpretation of the film as a whole. In this way seemingly minor details–if utilized cleverly–can not only often serve to foreshadow or hint at later plot twists, but also function as a point of continuity within the larger story.
Can a story have too many details?
Now, I know a lot of people are thinking “YES”, and I would definitely agree. I, as well, as most people I’m sure have had the misfortune to encounter a book, movie, or TV show that over-provided so many details that the greater plot ended up becoming lost in the flood of seemingly mundane and meaningless other factors. The main reason why I added in the parenthesis the phrase “sprinkled throughout” is because, while details can become powerful storytelling devices, a large number of them can easily be quickly overwhelming. I found that in my favorite books, movies, and TV shows, the details the writers choose to provide nearly always serve a larger purpose–whether it be to reveal more about a character’s personality or the nature of the world they inhabit or ultimately anything that enriches rather than hinders the heart of the story itself.
How do you all feel about details within a story? What kind of details do you enjoy seeing and which ones do you find annoying? Please feel free to leave your thoughts below!