Nita Sweeney, author of You Should Be Writing, has written a new blog post on the importance of sensory details in writing.

Everything Actual is an Advantage

Sensory detail grounds writing. In memoir, detail forms the shape of a lived experience. In a novel, the choice of which details to leave in and which to leave out shape the story as much or sometimes more than the plot.

One story set in New Orleans might feature an ornate Garden District house with a painted porch. Flamingo pink roses spill from baskets. Plum morning glory climbs a lattice frame. Mid-morning, an elderly woman patiently trims blossoms, gathering them into a bouquet.

A different story might portray the dark night of the French Quarter. At 2am, on a Sunday, an elderly woman in a shiny purple lycra bodysuit slithers out of a hotel room into the street. She passes a man in tattered clothes who can barely stand long enough to piss against the stone hotel foundation.

Same city. Two very different stories.

Better yet, combine them in the same story.

Show the contrast, the underbelly. And don’t assume the underbelly is the French Quarter. Choose the details of what goes on behind the doors of one of the fancy painted houses.

Show it all.

As novelist Toni Morrison said, “Everything actual is an advantage.” Put the light against the dark to see the full perspective.


You Should Be Writing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney

you should be writing

A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving

Writing Inspiration from Incredible Authors. Gathered by Brenda Knight and writing coach Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving TargetYou Should Be Writing provides you with writing wisdom from a variety of accomplished authors.

Writing Practice on Every Page. This journal is a must-have for writers everywhere. With quotes from a diverse group of historical and modern authors to use as creative prompts on every page, you’ll be able to bring your writing inspiration with you wherever you go. You’ll find plenty of great advice, such as Toni Morrison’s encouragement, “As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it.”

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