The Details

We talked in class last night about what details you should give to illuminate character. This discussion was sparked by a story we were going over that gave only one significant physical detail about a guy; that he had a copy of a porno in his living room. I suggested that unless we have more to go on than that, we're going to just assume he's perverted or really into something kinky. The reader has to believe that this is a significant; some details that show who this person is and that make him specific or real and not a generic stereotype. That made me think of the NY Times Magazine photo spread on Sunday called "The Shrine Down the Hall." It's a collection of black and white photographs of the bedroom's of American soldiers who were killed in Iraq. You can see the details of the lost person there---the posters they hung on their walls, the way their shoes are lined under the bed, their stuffed animals, their high school trophies. Each one is this photo of who they were.

The picture that upset me the most was the photo of a boy's bedroom with the dog still lying on the bed. It would be horrible to have your pet outlive your child and to then also see the dog waiting around for him to return, and not being able to explain that no, he's not coming back. You should look at the whole piece. It's incredible.And here's a link to the story behind the collection. How one mother can't bear to wash the clothes of her dead son, and so his laundry basket still has his unwashed clothes in it, the ones he wore before he left.