Definition of Detail and Development

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Detail Game

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This idea comes from Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff's Community of Writers, and I've used it in developmental writing classes elsewhere and in CO150 to get people accustomed to class participation and using descriptive detail. The activity is fun and always gets everybody involved -- the wilder the class gets with their ideas, the better. You will ask students to look at an object and use descriptive detail -- stressing the five senses -- to reveal something about the object to the audience. You can bring an object from home, the odder the better, and have them come up with as much description as they can about it. You can often have them launch into a narrative by beginning to build a story around your object.

Setup for Detail Game

Pick an object from home that's somewhat unusual to draw students' attention and to get them observing and describing creatively. (The best object I ever used was a green plaster mold of someone's very crooked teeth, but I was lucky enough to have a roommate with a large stock of odd objects like this). Pass the object around, and going from person to person, have each say one thing that describes the object. At first you'll get boring things like the object's color and its size, so stress the idea of the five senses: What does it feel like when you touch it? Does it have a smell? Taste? Sound? As you get to the middle of the class, ask someone to place the object in a setting. What's it doing there? Or imagine who the object might belong to, and build a story from there.

In a class of reluctant writers, those green teeth produced a great story about a poor woman who was battered by her nasty husband and decided to burn down the house and run away to a swamp to hide. Let them have fun with it and they'll probably surprise themselves with what they come up with, especially as they often begin to try to top one another with the weirdness of their contribution.