Finding Inspiration in the Little Details

BabetteJames2033 200x300~ By Babette James

When I’m writing, sometimes the scenes come clearly, the words flooding out with exactly what I want to say. Other times, all I get is the bare bones bridging from Point E to Point L. Sometimes there are the days pulling teeth would be easier. Then there are those days where what comes next is a big, foggy blank, even when your mental picture, outline, or synopsis says, “This event happens here.”

When I get stuck, one of the ways I can look for inspiration and try to prime the pump for what needs to be written is to look at the details, the tiny bits of description that might seem to be simple set dressing. Sometimes, taking your focus off the big picture of plot and redirecting it at the little details can help unblock the words.

Look around and consider the objects that would be in the scene naturally, or the objects you could or should add to the scene. Sometimes simply brainstorming a list of the objects helps. What objects need to be in the space your character is occupying? What does your character need to wear or carry? What would the character use normally? What would your character hear or smell? In my novel, Clear As Day, one setting was my heroine Kay’s campsite and I knew she needed to have a change of mindset there, but I didn’t know how to get her started. I started listing out the objects that were there: tent, tarp, sleeping bag, table, beach chair, lake water washing over the shore, orange coffee mug, pebbles on the table, towels and swimsuits on a drying line, a bug walking across the sand, etc. My long, stream-of-consciousness list was far from a lovely bit of writing, but the exercise led to my heroine observing these objects, some belonging to her, some belonging to my hero, and the comparisons, connections, and reactions that began forming bloomed into the full scene.

However, using details for inspiration is more than tossing in long passages of narrative to accumulate words. All that does is bloat the scene with unnecessary description. Like Chekov’s gun principle (“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.“), the details you include in your story should have a purpose. Perhaps your objects might not be as dramatic as a gun, but they should add to the story. Of my brainstorming list for Kay’s scene, I probably deleted two-thirds. Look at your list of details and consider how they are meaningful to the character and the action. The details should move the plot along, give an insight into character, and/or enrich the experience of your character’s world. It’s great if they can accomplish multiple purposes.

Another way to use details to inspire is to deliberately choose random items as a challenge or a writing prompt and see how you can incorporate them into your story world. This can be a particularly fun exercise and tool to spark the imagination. This is a good way to let your imagination have free rein and enjoy the creative process. In Summertime Dream my hero has inherited a very old house, crammed full of his great-grandmother’s belongings, so I picked antiques from around my own home and then found ways to incorporate them with meaning into my characters’ lives.

How do you use details in your writing process? What is your favorite way to spark inspiration when stuck in a story?

Babette James writes sweetly scorching contemporary romance and loves reading nail-biting tales with a satisfying happily ever after. When not dreaming up stories, she enjoys playing with new bread recipes and dabbling with paints. As a teacher, she loves encouraging new readers and writers as they discover their growing abilities. Her class cheers when it’s time for their spelling test! Born in New Jersey and raised in Southern California, she’s had a life-long love of the desert and going down the shore. She has written two novels, Clear As Day and Summertime Dream. Babette lives in New Jersey with her wonderfully patient husband and extremely spoiled cats. You can find Babette at her website: , on Twitter:, and Facebook:

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