A few years ago I was reading this book and I discovered somewhere in it that specificity is the key to writing. Getting closer and closer to the detail gets you closer and closer to the truth.
I try to use the principle of specificity as a guideline for my editing. I ask myself naggy questions, like”What is Gil doing as Jillian says that?” and make disparaging comments like “Not true.” I circle things like “that plant” and replace it with “cactus.”
Even better than those great fixes, I have come up with a system. This system must be good because sometimes I find inspiration in it and other times I loathe it.
The system is simply that I circle things in green, insert a piece of lined paper behind the typed page, rewrite a note on the lined page in the green pen begging specificity, type the green note out into a file called “Green Add-ons,” visit this file whenever I feel or especially don’t feel like it, and do a form of freewrite on that note. Then I print out the pages, old-school cut and paste them on to the original typed pages, then type everything out into something I call a new draft, or Draft_Four.
Simple and specific.
I have in this way been able to find details the only way I can find them: from the magic that comes with typing really quickly. Writing is the only way I can find ideas – well really, the only way I can write – so it’s useless for me to sit over a page or close my eyes and try to insert details. I can’t insert details, I need to write them.
With this system, I have changed the useless “the kitchen was crowded” to the more useless but longer “the kitchen was stuffy with everyone taking breaths in to say things,” and “the curly-haired one” to “the boring face, the bland voice, the diet powder.”
Hopefully there’s more meaning to Green Add-ons than I seem to explain. I think specificity is the key to getting to the nature of my characters, to their motivations and their anxieties and their likability. Why else did Mea wear a full length silk purple jumpsuit to her party? Why does Gil spin a basketball in his hands when he’s nervous? No reason really, but it’s better than Mea wore something and Gil was sitting there.