The Devil Really is in the Details

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How do I turn a vague memory into a well-written moment in my book? My mother remembers that her father’s car (before the war reached the Netherlands in 1940) was light blue and had a rumble seat. Her parents rode in the front and when the weather was nice, she got to sit in the back in the open air. I want to describe the car in more detail. I would love to know the make and model and see a picture of it.

I start to search Google – “light blue 1930’s cars with rumble seats.” That really doesn’t get me anywhere. Did The Netherlands have the equivalent of the US Dept. of Motor Vehicles in 1940? And is there an archive somewhere with that information? Maybe, but not online. I start a chat with a nice man named John at Edmunds.com and I search the Hemmings Motor News website. There just isn’t enough information to identify the car specifically.

So, I decide to write without the specifics. I compare my grandfather’s car to others and say his is sportier. I describe my mother sitting in the back at age five with the wind in her hair. I show how she knelt on the rumble seat facing backwards and waved at the other cars behind her. I compare the color of the car to the sky on a perfect spring day, and I show my grandfather being proud of his car by wiping some dirt off the fender and smiling as he gets behind the wheel.

There’s a lot you can do in writing with just a few details. Maybe it’s better not to be bogged down with every last one.

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