How to Add More Detail to Writing

Adding more detail to your writing might seem like an insignificant task, but it can greatly improve the quality of your content when done right.

It might be as small as two extra words or a small sentence added to a paragraph; whatever it may be, it will have an impact on the depth and clarity of your writing.

There are a couple of cases that require adding more detail. You might get feedback from your academic supervisor that your assignment/paper lacks detail and that you need to provide more supporting points.

You might also get a comment from your editor that says you need to improve your descriptions without making your story draggy.

Both scenarios require you to add more beef and ensure that there’s enough evidence to support your statements.

It doesn’t matter if it is fiction or nonfiction, it is crucial to add impactful vivid details if you want to write an engaging piece.

And… When it comes to writing, it always seems like saying things is easier than getting them done. So, I wrote this post to share some of the most effective ways of adding more detail to your writing.

Let’s get started.

adding more detail to writing

Ways to Add Detail to Writing

Here are some tips on how you can add more detail to your writing whether you are writing a fiction or nonfiction piece:

1. Use pitchforks

Pitchforking means “taking one sentence and branching it out to describe several actions.”

So, a pitchfork is a sentence with 3 parts, just like the prongs of a real pitchfork (the long-handled hand tool).

Pitchforks can be nouns, verbs, actions, examples, reasons, synonyms, et cetera. Whatever adds detail without making the sentence boring.

Example:

A. He sat on the couch.

The sentence above is grammatically correct and there is nothing wrong with it except that it is just savorless.

example of pitchforking

Let’s pitchfork it:

He sank into the couch, his entirety trembling and his eyes wandering between the two windows, anticipating a life-shuttering knock at the door.

The pitchforked sentence brings life to the original sentence using verbs like trembling, wandering, and anticipating. However, you can also use other things besides verbs.

2. Add comparisons using similes and metaphors.

Similes and metaphors can greatly improve your writing but you have to be economical.

A simile is a figure of speech that uses words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’ to express a resemblance between different things.

Examples:

  1. He is as brave as a lion.
  2. Cathy and her ex-husband were as different as night and day.
  3. That speech was as clear as mud.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses an expression to refer to something that it does not literally denote to hint at a similarity.

Examples:

  1. The holiday has turned him into a couch potato.
  2. She is a dime piece with a heart of gold.
  3. You are nothing but a hound dog.

Similes are obvious when they compare two things while metaphors don’t use direct linking words that indicate a relationship between the two words (i.e. ‘like’ and ‘as’).

To effectively use metaphors and similes you have to make them simple and clear, use unique metaphors and similes, and make sure your metaphors and similes create a vivid image or summon a certain sound, taste, smell, or sensation.

3. Add onomatopoeia (or repeat a word, phrase, or sentence)

onomatopoeia

This is perfect for nonfiction especially when you want to evoke a particular sound. Onomatopoeia is a word or a process of using words to imitate the sound that the word denotes.

You can use words like boing, gargle, clap, zap, pop, CRASH! KABOOM! Snap, crackle, et cetera.

To create drama and build momentum, a word, phrase, or sentence can be repeated. The repeated word or phrase indicates vehemence or emphasis.

For example, if your character says “Never! Never! Never! Never!” it means they are not going to give in (if they do, they won’t do it easily).

3. Include definitions and examples

For the sake of clarity and richness of your writing, you should define terms that aren’t well-known.

Use phrases like, “this means,” “that means,” or “which means.”

You also have to clarify your arguments and statements by providing examples. You can introduce those examples using words like, “for example,” “for instance,” “one kind is,” “such as,” “like,” etc.

4. Add action to dialogue & vice versa

Adding dialogue is a great way of advancing your plot without telling.  If you want to build up a single paragraph, one sentence of dialogue will suffice.

Think about what the character would say or where; when you find the correct words and context, let the character say 1–2 lines in the part that you are trying to stretch.

Always make sure that you are not just throwing in pointless dialogue, dialogue added just for the sake of stretching the content.

You can also add action to the dialogue. The usual—and abused—way of doing this involves the use of tags.

For example, writers use tags such as He screamed, slamming the door, she sighed, he whispered, she grunted, shrugging her shoulders, he sassed, et cetera.

In addition, you can add thought-shots: after all, the reader is not going to know the character’s thoughts and feelings unless you (the writer) provide some insight.

So, adding what the character is thinking is a great way of adding more detail to your piece.

5. Use alliteration

example of alliteration in a literary work

Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant at the beginning of each stressed syllable in a line of verse.

Alliteration produces a musical effect, thereby creating rhythm, mood, and motion. Plus, it soaks the sentences in a beautiful color that follows a flow.

Alliteration doesn’t always call attention to itself, but when it does it sure does stick out in an embellishing way.

“Scarce from his mould Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved His vastness:  Fleeced the flocks and bleating rose, As plants:  Ambiguous between sea and land The river-horse, and scaly crocodile.”

6. Add spider legs

Spider legs are ideal when writing a draft. Write additional notes or corrections on a separate piece of paper and tape the main draft.

This is similar to pitchforking because the base sentence or paragraph already exists. But the fundamental difference lies in the fact that spider legs aren’t restricted to a single sentence and can—sometimes—lead to a whole new paragraph.

The spider legs are used to accommodate more points to support an idea on the part of the main draft where it is pinned.

How to Add More Depth without Breaking the “Show don’t tell” Rule

Focus on key details

Sometimes, your writing can be all over the place because you are focusing on too many details. This usually disturbs the pacing of your story and your argument seems disorganized.

When we choose to describe so many things in a small space, the arguments or the plot lack dimension. Therefore, your leaders will struggle to clearly see the plot or argument.

You don’t have to describe everything; rather, you have to choose a few key details and let the reader digest the ideas or fill in some details.

To determine the key details, you have to ask yourself some questions. Ask yourself why the details are included, if the details tell you something about a character, if they advance the plot, or if they are relevant and sufficient for the writer’s argument.

Avoid ineffective descriptive words

Telling not showing is not rebellious at all. You can break the “show don’t tell” rule, but do it a lot at your own peril.  

show, don't tell
A creative illustration of writing technique called ‘Show, Don’t Tell.” (Image credit: “Show, don’t tell” by Paul Downey on Flickr CC BY 2.0)

One of the things that make writers tell and not show a lot is using empty descriptors in their writing.

Amateur writers think that throwing all sorts of fancy adjectives such as beautiful, incredible, tall, short, large, small, young, old, amazing, big, and others.

The thing about these adjectives is they don’t show the reader a lot of details and hide so much depth.

For example, you can describe the height of an object or a person using a whole sentence.

“Two hooves width.” “It is as long as my arm and as wide as a barmaid’s hips.” “It was half a head taller than Big George.”

Avoid most adverbs

Stephen King once said that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs”—and whether you are with him or not on this, he is right.

You always have to use the modifiers judiciously. Sometimes, adverbs can be useful, but for the most part, they are boring.

Instead of using a boring modifier, you should use descriptive verbs. Rather than running quickly, your character can sprint. Walking; rather than walking through the mud, the character can trudge; and instead of walking in a slow or relaxed manner, your character can saunter.

Replacing adverbs also offers an ideal opportunity to use pitchforks. For example, “he moved aimlessly” can be developed into “he wandered through the narrow streets, his eyes drifting from door to another, hoping to Griselda.”

By getting rid of most adverbs, you give urgency and impact to your writing and help readers to visualize the story because you craft a specific image.

This is equally impactful in nonfiction writing including speeches or essays, because vivid language helps the reader to conceive or clearly see the writer’s perspective.

Use all the senses

In the previous tips, I mentioned adding onomatopoeia as one of the ways of adding more detail to writing but for your writing to have depth, you have to have more than sight and sound.

You have to include smell, sound, taste, and touch to make your descriptions more vivid and tangible.

Including all senses helps you put your reader in a space where normal descriptions cannot.

Example:

  1. Sight: Laurie Lee, in her book, Cider With Rosie, described a Christmas tree as a “mysterious and sparkling, still dripping with melted snow, its feathery branches filling half the kitchen.”
  2. Taste: The drink excited Howard’s palate as it left its mango scent.
  3. Sound: A cold wind ran through his farm and it made the trees rustle like loud whispers from his dead uncles.
  4. Touch: The air caressed his soft skin and he could feel it as it navigated through the strands of hair in his treasure trail.
  5. Smell: Even though the alley stank of urine, sweat, and sewer-brewed tomato juice it could not overpower the stench that escaped his mouth—a stench stronger than that of 100 rotten bodies.

Use beats instead of tags

action beats vs dialogue tags

A dialogue tag is a narration that is added to dialogue to indicate who or in what manner they’re speaking. They can come before, interrupting, or at the end of the dialogue.

Examples of dialogue tags include he said, she said, said, grumbled, moaned, and many more.

In contrast, action beats show actions or gestures that convey the tone or emotions of the speaker when they accompany the dialogue.

Examples:

  1. Daniel cocked his gun. “You have two options: follow me or get killed by the Amateks.”
  2. “I want you out of here.” She stormed off.

But replacing tags with action beats, I’m able to describe more details that bring the conversation to life. It is okay to describe action after a tag but that has become bland because it is an overused way of describing dialogue.

Final Words on How to Add More Detail to Writing

Writing that lacks depth is vapid and tedious to read. Whether it’s academic, professional reports, or works of fiction, there are ways you can add more detail to your writing.

You can add more detail to writing by using pitchforks, adding comparisons using similes and metaphors, adding onomatopoeia or repeating words and phrases, providing definitions and examples, and adding action to dialogue among others.

However, you have to use vivid descriptions wisely. Although vivid descriptions improve your writing, describing so many things slows down your narrative and might overwhelm the reader.

You should also choose your word carefully, avoid words that decrease your efficiency, and only include what is needed by your readers.

The things you add should not just increase the word count but also paint a clear picture that helps your readers to see every detail that you wanted them to see.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.