Killer-Diller Cold Details

The big news across the country is the weather. Schools across the central U.S. are closed due to snow and subzero temperatures. I’ve never, NEVER, had a “snow day” due to the cold. But, there’s a first for everything.

The day off has given me some much needed writing time. Yesterday, I picked up the book, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing 2nd Edition from the people over at Writers Digest.  

This handbook is a treasure trove of writing tips and activities for those who want to better their writing. In Chapter 19–“Killer-Diller Details Bring Fiction to Life,” Donna Levin discusses how most people wander through each day without stopping on anything specific. An author, on the other hand, has to focus on each and every element in the world he creates. The details bring a novel and its world to life. But Levin cautions us from using “banal” ordinary details like the girl had blonde hair and blue eyes (a beginner’s mistake). Instead, we must use “killer-diller” details.

Toward the end of the chapter, she challenges us to complete “an exercise for detail spotting.”

There’s a technique for training yourself to produce these killer-diller details. Around dinnertime or later (if you’re a night person), take ten minutes to note the five most interesting things you observed that day. Make this a rigid habit for at least a month….the most specific, and sometimes off beat, details you see (or hear, or taste, or smell, or touch).

Yesterday I completed my first day of detail searching.

  1. Stepping from carpet to cold tile with bare feet.
  2. Burning one side of my body as it’s pressed to the fireplace, while the other side prickles in goosebumps.
  3. Steam swirled around the bathroom in a thick fog.
  4. The way my fingers stiffen as I pound on the cold keys.
  5. SUV weaving in and out of traffic to get around the “slow” people.

Yes, on the coldest day of the year, our furnace went out (around three in the morning). The backlogged technician did make it to our house before the end of the business day, so we have heat again. No frozen fingers today –yay.

Stay warm today as you work on those killer-diller details.

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Posted on February 2, 2011, in Fiction Writing Tips, Writer's Toolbox and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Why is it that those darned furnaces always kick out on the coldest day of the year? Been there!
    I personally have noticed my thinking patterns have evolved since I’ve gotten serious with my writing;I notice things I previously overlooked, I try to ‘catalogue’ sensations, scenic views, twisted cliches, new words, etc. How would my character react in this situation? How could I fit ‘that’ into my story? I’m always thinking of my writing. To me, that’s what makes me a writer, even if I never get published.

  2. Cinette–

    I totally agree about the details. I used to do it when I first went to college (wanting to be a photographer), but I let is slip. I’ll just blame it on work and the kids. ;-)

    Now, I find myself watching people more or the way the light hits a room. I think it also helps me to appreciate the little things more.

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