All Details are Not Created Equally

by Craig Buchner

I have a vivd memory from graduate school at Western Carolina, almost 20 years ago. My thesis director commented on my final project, a collection of a few short stories. He said that the details I chose in those stories were particularly precise and thoughtful. At that time in my writing development, I was including details that quickly came to mind, and I would settle on one or maybe two details within a scene to highlight—choosing efficiency of language over any greater world building. At the time, it was easier to write in a more clipped, Hemingway-style, and it saved time so I could focus more energy on developing the narrative and plot.

Two decades on—after publishing two books—I still write like this, but it isn’t for the same reasons. Instead, I realize that a focused detail or two can add a deeper layer or dimension to a story.

For example, in my collection of short stories Brutal Beasts I include a story called “Held in Place by Teeth that Face Inward,” in which the protagonist goes to a dive bar with his brother after said brother is arrested. While the brother orders “two Mich Lights and two shots of Fireball,” the protagonist settles on a Sprite “with a slice of lime if you got it.” This drink choice allows me, the author, to establish that the protagonist is sober and moreover that he carries a backstory far more nuanced than the present story at hand. The protagonist makes choices in the scene based on a history he carries, yet that history never has to be explicitly told.

For me, this example illustrates that a well chosen, intentional detail can carry a significant amount of weight within a story that, if positioned well, can establish tension within a scene and between characters, and it supersedes unnecessary backstory or a lengthly explanation, which might slow down the story too much. Too many specific details, in this view, can dilute a scene, leaving a reader to wonder where they should focus their attention, and ultimately lose sight of a key detail that might come back later in the story to reinforce a climactic moment.

I’ve always been attracted to brevity in stories, but it’s taken me a couple decades to understand the true power of it within storytelling. So, I leave you with this thought: Details matter, but not all of them. Choose wisely!

Learn Short Story Writing with Craig

BEGINNING NEXT TUESDAY: “Writing the Short Story,” three Tuesdays, September 26, October 3 & 10, 6:00-8:00 p.m., virtual via Zoom. 

“Cut the piano in half with a chainsaw.” How can this advice influence us to write the best short stories? In this three-week course, we’ll learn how to write a captivating scene for a short story, and explore what a successful scene should accomplish. We will also break down the essential elements of a short story, including character, setting, and dialogue. In lieu of workshopping, writing exercises will give students opportunities to apply these lessons to their own work. And what about that “piano”? We’ll hear that story in the first class!. Info

About Craig

Craig Buchner holds an M.F.A. from the University of Idaho and a M.A. in English from Western Carolina University. He’s taught writing at Brevard College, Washington State University, and Portland Community College. His debut collection of short stories, Brutal Beasts (NFB Publishing), was chosen as an “Indie Book of the Year” in 2022 by Kirkus Reviews. He is also the author of the novel Fish Cough (Buckman Press), which was named an “Indie Books We Love” by LoveReading in 2023. Craig lives with his family in Charlotte.

Piece by Piece

by Jaime Pollard-Smith

“Because in real life, unlike in history books, stories come to us not in their entirety but in bits and pieces, broken segments and partial echoes, a full sentence here, a fragment there, a clue hidden in between. In life, unlike in books, we have to weave our stories out of threads as fine as the gossamer veins that run through a butterfly wing.” ~Elif Shafak, The Island of Missing Trees

Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery. The word beautifully translates to “golden joinery.” This process involves piecing together fragments of broken pottery and filling in the cracks with gold. The shimmering seams not only add value, but they create a one of a kind piece that cannot be replicated. Brokenness builds beauty. I like to apply this same process when writing creative nonfiction.

My writing students often struggle with knowing where to begin. How far back do they need to travel to enter the story? They feel a burden to provide all of the context up front. We are conditioned to produce “Once upon a time…” and “Happily ever after…” stories; yet that is never how our minds actually construct meaning. Readers might crave chronology, but it does not represent our internal life. Our life itself is an act of “golden joinery,” which is why I propose my students dive right into the messy middle. They can pick any moment from their life that they remember vividly. William Zinsser encourages writers to think small. If they have held onto a memory, it is there for a reason. Writers such as Anne Lamott teach that we don’t have to know what we are doing in order to just start the process of writing. Writers might not even know a beginning until they figure out where they are going.

Once the writer feels the freedom to write in fragmented pieces, the possibilities are endless. It becomes a process of discovery rather than production. I tell my students to write in vivid detail, capture the feeling and paint the picture. Show us the sweater, the sunset, the creaky staircase, the broken crayons, the hole in the sock, or the tear stained cheek. Zoom in again and again like exploring different pinned spots on a map. Reel us in, then step out and re-enter a new time and place. These snapshots can be joined in a beautiful new arrangement somewhere down the road. Don’t worry yourself with those details at the start. Enjoy the unfolding as you pick up the pieces.

Explore writing piece by piece with Jaime Pollard-Smith and Zeba Mehdi: “Framing Our Experience: A Life in Pieces” at Charlotte Lit, Tuesday, September 12, 6:00-8:00 p.m. Info

Jaime Pollard-Smith is a full-time writing instructor at Central Piedmont Community College with a Master of Arts from New York University. When she is not corralling two teenagers and a doodle named Dexter, she can be found practicing yoga, weightlifting, hiking, journaling and enjoying the arts. Her fiction has been published in Literary Mama, and she is a contributor for Scary Mommy and Project We Forget. Online:

Networking for the Introverted Writer

by Sarah Archer

Some of my earliest memories are from preschool, where there was an old cast iron tub, with rubber ducks painted on the sides, sitting in the middle of the room. The tub was filled with stuffed animals—and books. While the other kids ran around me and played, I just wanted to sit in that tub and read.

Growing up, I was always the girl with her nose in a book. The life of a writer seemed perfect, because not only did I love to read and write, I enjoyed living inside my own head. When I went to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting, I faced an abrupt awakening. It turns out screenwriting is a very social career. The adage that it’s all about who you know is true. Screenwriters work collaboratively, take frequent meetings, and pitch themselves at every opportunity. I later learned that publishing is similarly social, albeit in different ways. Authors have more solitude during the initial writing process, but are responsible for the lion’s share of promotion. Engaging over social media, giving readings and interviews, and utilizing beta readers are all key.

My kneejerk reaction to all this was “Excuse me? I did not become a writer to talk to people. I became a writer to sit alone in a turret and gaze out the window.” I considered being like Emily Dickinson: hiding all my work in my bedroom, then posthumously becoming one of the most lauded writers of all time. But I had to concede that there is, after all, only one Emily Dickinson.

So I did what I saw other screenwriters doing: I networked. I did drinks with anyone I could in the industry. I attended mixers and workshops for aspiring writers. I joined critique groups. I kept in touch with people I had met, offering to read their work or help in any way I could. Later, when I wrote and published my first novel, I joined writing groups hosted by bookstores and libraries, and discovered the rich community of book lovers on Instagram.

All of these efforts have taken time, and, particularly for an introvert, the social aspects have required energy. But over the years, building a community of writers and readers has become one of the most rewarding parts of my writing life. I’ve learned about the entertainment and publishing industries, gotten invaluable feedback, sold books and scripts, and been hired for writing and teaching jobs. I’ve also found many of my best friends within the writing world. I even met my husband at a networking event.

Building a community and marketing yourself can seem daunting, but there are so many ways to personalize the tasks to your own strengths. I’ve also found writing communities to be incredibly welcoming. Even if you’re an introvert, as a writer, you can and should network! At heart, I am still—and always will be—that girl with her nose in a book. If I can find career and personal fulfillment through networking, anyone can.

About Sarah

Sarah Archer‘s debut novel, The Plus One, was published by Putnam in the US and received a starred review from Booklist. It has also been published in the UK, Germany, and Japan, and is currently in development for television. As a screenwriter, she has developed material for MTV Entertainment, Snapchat, and Comedy Central. Her short stories and poetry have been published in numerous literary magazines, and she has spoken and taught writing to groups in several states and countries. She is also a co-host of the award-winning Charlotte Readers Podcast. Online: at

Learn the Networking Ropes with Sarah…and Bring a Friend!

Wednesday, September 6: “Building a Community: Networking for Writers” with Sarah Archer, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Charlotte Lit.

This Class is a “Plus One” — Bring a Friend for Free! In honor of Sarah Archer’s novel, The Plus One — and because some things are easier with a trusted companion — you can bring a “plus one” to this class at no extra cost! Info

Essay Shakedown: Personal Versus Reported

by Amy Paturel

In almost every personal essay class, I get the question: “What is a reported essay?” And it’s a great question, particularly since publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic are increasingly shying away from personal essays in favor of reported essays. So what’s the difference between the two? Read on!

The Personal
Personal essays delve into a deeply personal experience that may only be relevant to you (i.e., you may be the only person who experienced this particular “thing”). But you tell the story in such a way that anyone can relate to the over-arching message or theme. The key here: You have to have that universal theme or take-home message.

The personal focuses exclusively on your experience with a sort of three-legged stool approach:

  • Scene (sensory details, dialogue, showing)
  • Story (narrative and plot movement, i.e., what’s happening)
  • Reflection (your musings about the experience)

Some examples:

The Reported
With a reported essay, your reader may enthusiastically say, “yes, me, too!” It gives you the opportunity to reflect on your personal experience while recognizing that other people have probably experienced it, too. The way to achieve that end: Statistics. If you can show that INSERT NUMBER OF people also suffer from “you name the experience,” you have the basic scaffolding for a reported essay.

Then, you get to research the who, what, why, when and how, behind the experience and (hopefully) help other people in the process. Here are a few examples:

So what steps do you need to take to craft a pitch for a reported essay?

  • Do some research: Get statistics that prove you’re not alone in the experience.
  • Identify the experts: Search for diverse expert sources who can speak to your experience. Maybe you consult the authors of the studies you uncovered in step 1. Or maybe you search for the top physicians, researchers, and “on-the-ground” experts who can speak to the issue you experienced. The key is to identify the best people to speak to your issue.
  • Craft a pitch for a reported essay. A hint: You should be able to explain what the story is about in two sentences or less.

Now it’s your turn: Craft a pitch for a reported essay. Research the topic or issue you want to explore in a personal essay. Struggling with sibling rivalry in your home? Review the latest psychology research about what sibling rivalry is, why it happens, and how to build a more harmonious home. Want to quit smoking, but can’t seem to commit? Try acupuncture, meditation, or guided imagery, then write a reported essay pitch about what you learned.

Your pitch should include the following:

  • A compelling opening anecdote, similar to what you might craft for a narrative essay.
  • Data, statistics, and/or recent research findings.
  • Three or four experts you would like to interview for the story.

Copyright © 2021 by Amy Paturel. First published in slightly different form at

Learn reported essays from Amy! “Writing and Pitching the Reported Essay” is online via Zoom, two Sundays, July 30 and August 6, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Info

The Healing Potential of Writing

by Elizabeth Hanly

Once upon a time, a student told me his story. He told it in the voice of a child, since he was still quite young when the story occurred. The student had been kidnapped in Guatemala. His captors complained about his tears. “My mother complained of my tears too,” the student wrote. “Maybe that is way she let these men take me.” With that, suddenly, the student understood what he had been unconsciously carrying around with him for over a decade. And with that, I became super curious about the healing potential of writing.

I discovered a mountain of research that suggests writing uses neural processes that function beneath the level of awareness. When those processes are given rein through writing, “stuck” internal narratives can be challenged, freeing intuitive insights to come into awareness. Translation: Reflective writing is a way to discover insights you didn’t know you had.

And so when asked to work with the prompt “Memory that won’t let you go,” a cancer patient found herself writing of the prayer shawl her dad wrapped her in on Saturday mornings before he set off for synagogue. Quite an image to take with her into chemo. Another patient found herself remembering the carved wooden box her father had continued to work on for her even during a decade of the most heated and bitter of exchanges. These stories came to their writers unbidden. The writers couldn’t have known beforehand how healing these images would become. I watched in wonder.

I’ve watched in wonder as well at the laughter shared among the folks in my groups.

Friends sometimes ask me why this work? Because the space shared in these workshops is—dare I say it?—holy. Yep. That’s why.

Write with Elizabeth Hanly. “Togetherness: Writing for Those Touched by Cancer and Other Serious Illness” meets four Tuesdays beginning July 18, via Zoom, 6:00-8:00 p.m. Register

Elizabeth Hanly is a widely published freelance writer, covering the arts, refugees and issues of faith and healing. Her reporting has led her all over Latin and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. Her work appears in the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Vogue, and others. She is an affiliate professor at Florida International University’s (FIU) Herbert Wertheim’s College of Medicine and leads writing workshops for patients at NYC’s Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Cancer Center. Online:

Journey from Silent Woman to Poet

Then and Now

Surrealist Games

Characters as Friends

The Power of “What If”