17. It’s All In The Details


     Come close. Closer. Zoom all the way in and focus. What do you see? What does it say to you? Does it speak wonders? Does it catch your interest? That may be because sometimes the details between the lines are more revealing than the actual words themselves.
     Writing and reading details is a lot like a director zooming in for a close-up on a certain object with the camera. The point of that is to call the audience’s attention to something without specifically stating what it is we need to feel or think about that detail. It gives room for the audience to speculate.
     And if the audience is paying attention, they can gain some sort of significant meaning from that detail. For examples, let’s turn to Hills Like White Elephants (link to short story) by Hemmingway.


Hills Like White Elephants

I could not think of a better example to give than one of Hemingway’s stories. With his Iceberg Theory (or also known as the Iceberg Principle), Hemingway is a believer in the bare minimum. His stories are really all about picking up on the details to come to a conclusion.

Most of the details the reader needs to pay attention to here, is in his symbolism.

The “operation”

This is the biggest little detail the readers are thrown. Hemingway even goes into more detail and reveals how the operation is done. “They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural” says the (jerk-face) American (his character infuriates me, but we’ll leave that rant for another day ;p) (Hemingway). What kind of operation is like that? That is what the writer wants the reader to think when reading this exchange, which is why our author doesn’t flat-out tell us what the “operation” is. The answer is in the details.


At one point our female main character is referred to as Jig, which is a dance and therefore could be inferred that the couple ‘dances’ around their problems. This is an important detail to know to better understand our characters.

White Elephants

Perhaps the biggest little detail we have is the “White Elephants”. Ever heard that saying “the elephant in the room”? Most likely that is what the reader thinks of when they hear Jig say, “The hills look like white elephants” (Hemingway). Any guesses as to what that elephant in the room (womb?) could be?

There are many many more details that give away what Hemingway’s story is about, but that would take all day to tell you about, so I will leave it at these three and let you read the story and find them for yourselves :)

1” Picture Frame

When it comes to writing details, as I said before, it’s all about zooming the readers attention on one little focus. In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott discusses writing through the scope of a 1” picture frame.

To summarize, she basically says write only what you see in that one inch frame, focus on the details there. She goes on to say, “So after I’ve completely exhausted myself thinking about the people I most resent in the world, and my more arresting financial problems, and, of course, the orthodontia, I remember to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange” (Lamott 18).

Focusing on details can range from being extra descriptive on an object to symbolism. Everything we write is for a reason. There is a reason the curtains are open or closed in the room, there is a reason that rose is blue in color. It’s all in the details.


For more information on writing about details or the 1” picture frame, I highly encourage you to read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It is personally my favorite writing advice book and one that I have put much use to.

Nicole Michelle

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. Hills Like White ElephantsAsdk12.org. Web. 26 January 2014.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Print.

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