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How to write better articles: Details

There's been a lot of terrific reporting out of the horrible fire situation in California, but I found a passage from an LA Times enterprise story that particularly spoke to me. The details are so rich, with details about large landscapes and tiny detritus. It would be easy to overlook the small things in a story this big, but the smallest details bring the reporting down to a scale we can handle, and reminds us that these are real people who have lost much and in some cases everything. I encourage you to read the entire piece, but here's the section that stuck with me:

Excerpt from LA Times enterprise story on the Woolsey Fire

The silence was punctuated by the beep-beep-beep of utility trucks, the whir of helicopters dropping water and the roar of the wind blowing ash and dust across the hills. The shoulder of Mulholland Highway was filled with trash, burnt palm fronds and the remnants of people’s homes: a New Yorker subscription card, a page from a 1977 yearbook, a half-melted parking ticket for going 101 mph in a 60-mph zone.

Nearby, along a path of wood chips that crumbled when touched, a white yurt stood intact and pristine, surveying a valley of scorched earth and twisted trees. Stone letters on a ridge nearby spelled out: “LOVE.”

From a technical point of view, what makes this passage successful is that the writer has included just enough details. Too many would feel as overwhelming as the scale of the disaster itself. Too few would seem like a phoned-in attempt to humanize or right-size the article.

Striking a balance with our details, especially on deadline, takes a deft hand and a lot of reading out loud to "feel" the impact of the information.

How can you work this week to add relevant details to your writing to make it stronger?

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