Plot, character, and setting can all benefit from interesting details. Using details can help define character, create suspense, establish setting, amplify theme, and further plot. However you need to remember, most readers are trained and well-read. Therefore your details need to have some significance.
We need to aim for coherence, not fragmentation. For concise characters, details should matter in some way to reveal an aspect of your characters that will ultimately draw your readers deeper into you story. Keep in mind that the best detail is integrated with the greater narrative; that is, it should be significant without being obtrusive. It should whisper, not shout. Don’t confine yourself just to physical attributes. Habits, routines, a past event, a goal– any of these are details that can help to define a character. But remember, one strong detail, truly illustrative, is worth more than a dozen bits of trivia. Getting our readers more involved in our books with intriguing details can be satisfying with both the reader and the writer.
Suspense: all or nothing
When writing your characters in your scenes, consider using a more individualized detail, maybe one that is revealed in the action of the book or even leads to later revelations further in the story. This detail is true character development, not just window display. It’s also more dynamic, because it happens within the story, rather than being inserted in some descriptive list.
The most common use of detail is in description of character and setting. Beyond the purely physical elements, usually we’ll put in something designed to evoke deeper understanding. But you have to be careful here to know what message that detail is sending. Staying away from superficial items such as cars or brand of clothes, unless it is critical to your character’s personality, is just too trivial for readers to care about.
Theme revealing passages
When writing, think about what you want to reveal about the character and/or place, and then choose details that will evoke that. Consider how you can later show the descriptive detail to be even more significant than is initially apparent. The danger with detail-as-description is that it tends to be static, to tell and not show. In small doses, that won’t bother the reader. But don’t fall into the trap of proving details based solely on their appearance. Actions speak louder than words and can provide subtle hints indicating the story’s theme.
Furthering your plot
One particularly clever use of detail is an unreliable narrator. This is where a character reveals something through a detail that later proves him to be a liar or a thief or murderer. The suspense is created because the significance isn’t revealed right away. And reader involvement is necessary to later fit that piece into the puzzle. This drives the plot forward and has the reader turning those pages to discover the truth behind it all.
Details make the backbone of every story. They make the past affect the present, and thus cause the future and we can’t get enough.