Making Stories Human
"Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better."
-- Ernest Hemingway
I've judged a good number of first chapter writing contests, and I like to think I've developed a good eye for spotting potential. Whether or not the entrant has begun to master craft, there's a sense of story and an ear for dialogue that set up a new writer for the possibility of success. Almost as important is a talent (and I think it is more a talent than a learned skilled) for detail. Not the commonplace sort that anybody could come up with, but that pitch-perfect detail that drops the reader head-first into the story.
When it comes to such details, less is more. Too much description can bury the characters and bore the reader. But the right words are not only unexpected, they also provoke instant recognition, so the reader thinks, "Yes, this is truth."
And once you've hooked them with the tiny truths, it's easier to sell the big lies that comprise the story.