The Telling Detail

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We have new family members.

Some of my new works contain mice. Mice are Essential. I don’t have much real-world experience with mice, and it seemed wrong to draw them and write about them (or their analogs) without knowing them. So I adopted a pair of sisters who are, at this moment, sleeping in a nest they built themselves. Did you know that a Playstation 4 comes with cardboard in the packaging that converts to fabulous mouse housing? You do now.

See? Research rocks! Just this second-hand exposure to mice has taught you something, too. While I won’t advocate immersion learning for everything you may write about, there’s something to be said for deep and immediate understanding. But it comes with a cost. I’ve cared for many other small animals in my time so I had some idea of what I’m in for. I did my mouse-specific research, and was prepared to make up to a three year commitment before I adopted these mice. I’m buying their food, bedding, and (because I want them to live their best lives) three cages of increasingly large size. Right now, they’re in a 40 gallon long glass breeder aquarium with a screened top. And I decided beforehand how much *smell* I could deal with, and figured out how to keep them safe from my cat. But you don’t have to go this far in your research.

Second-hand info can be fantastic! People are generally thrilled to be talking about what they love, so don’t be afraid to ask politely. Your genuine interest will show. And if you ask deep questions, they may share the telling detail: something that conveys a depth of understanding or immediate experience. Then you can convert their knowledge into your character’s knowledge, using that detail to create a believable reality for your reader.

Back to mice: such joyful little creatures. They love to explore, and are curious about any new thing in their habitat. Bonus: I’ve learned that a mouse’s tiny forepaws feel like eyelashes flickering across your hand. Such a lovely thing.

Want a writing exercise?
Susan has moved to a new city. She enjoys gaming. She is lonely, so she adopts some mice. Use the info I’ve given you about mice and create a quick scene of Susan unpacking and giving the mice the carton inserts. Note for new writers: you don’t have to say she enjoys gaming. Just show her unpacking the PS4 and some games. Feel free to post in the comments if you feel like sharing. Posts in which Susan also has a pet snake, featuring an unfortunate outcome for the mice, will be deleted. 😉

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