In his workshops, Canadian writer Andreas Shroeder often suggests that 'telling details' are the elements of writing that most involve the reader in a piece of writing.
Lately, a friend wrote that the taste of water was 'as cold as lettuce' in her protaganist's mouth. A forgettable movie showed a close-up of about a dozen mens' caps tucked in between the railings of a banister. A painting by an artist whose name I couldn't pronounce and no longer recall showed a young girl dressed for church in a prim wool coat and felt hat, with one sock slumped down over the top of her shoe.
These are the things that stay with me long after I've closed the book, the movie has ended, or the art exhibition has closed. It's not necessarily the grand sweep of the story or the immediacy of the idea, but the little things that
often reveal the true heart of the piece.
Writers need to look closely, to observe what they see finely, and involve the reader with details that engage all their senses.
One way to learn how to see better is by studying good photos, to get behind the photographer's camera and inside their head to determine what exactly they were looking at, why, and what it tells them about the world.
I've recently become a regular visitor to the CBC website - not necessarily to keep up on the news, but to check out the photo gallery of The Week in Pictures.
Other places to learn how to see are photo blogs, my favourite being Joe's NYC.
Most of them provide a new look at a familiar world. Which is what many writers try to do with every word they put on the page.