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Writing Alchemy

Writing Alchemy Helps Identify the Details of Your Life

by Matilda Butler on November 24, 2015

catnav-alchemy-activePost #84 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – A Methodology and Book for Writers – Matilda Butler

Find the Details of Your Story

If you have ever taken a writing class or read a book on writing (I’m aware this means all of you), you know about “Show, don’t tell.” Still most people are unsure about how to show. They know they should show but classes and books often let them down when it comes to the particulars of the how.

In following this blog, you’ve heard about our book Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. In the book, we present a methodology that lets you easily go deep into the details of your story for each of five elements in the craft of writing — characters, emotions, dialogue, sensory detail, and time/place.

At the end of using the Writing Alchemy methodology, you have all the ingredients you need to show rather than tell. We’ve often felt that something almost magical happens after using the Writing Alchemy approach. You’ve told the scene using five different approaches and in the process of doing that and reflecting on the results, you see the best way to write the scene. You know which details to include.

And in general, I still feel this way. It is like when you put flour, water, yeast, and salt together. You give it some time and you get a loaf of bread that is much more than the individual elements. So it is with Writing Alchemy. It lets you put together character, emotion, dialogue, sensory detail, time/place and get much more than the individual elements.

But Now I Have a New Insight into the Use of Details

Recently, I was reading one of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes stories and found the following line:

“One of the main tasks of an investigator is to know which small facts are incidental and which are revealing.” — Statement made by Sherlock Holmes in Laurie R. King’s The God of the Hive, A Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel of suspense

If you change the sentence to read–One of the main tasks of a writer is to know which small facts are incidental and which are revealing–then you have one of those sentences that can change the way you think about a topic. It let me add a third leg to the stool of my beliefs about the importance of details in writing:

  • Details are the way to show.

  • Almost all details are better than generalities and certainly better than no details. (For example, can the reader of your memoir see your short dark brown hair with bangs held back with a barrette, hear the raspy sound of your voice, see the hand-painted Pennsylvania Dutch designs on the cabinets in your kitchen, smell the aroma of your husband’s dinner burning when you are distracted by the phone call that changed your life, etc.) Details bring a story to life.

  • The best details add context and reveal your story.


  • Thanks Sherlock for helping me add the last point. I had gotten so wrapped up in the value of details that I had ignored the value of the careful consideration of which details to include. I recently read another mystery that helped me understand this point even better. The author gave many details but there was no sincerity in the details. They were not woven into the story but applied on top of it.

    So once you get the hang of Writing Alchemy’s methodology, once you have the details developed at considerable depth, once you have studied what you have, craft your scene using the details that help to involve the reader and move your story forward. And by the way, it is impossible to know ahead of time which details should be included. You need to deconstruct for all the details and then see which ones help to reveal your story with the depth it deserves.

    Want to Know More About Writing Alchemy?

    Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep can be purchased from Amazon, and that is the link provided in the second paragraph. The price on Amazon bounces around and we have no control over it.

    However, if you would like to purchase through our etsy.com store, we are glad to autograph the book as well as give you a limited time discount. Once you have clicked on Add to Cart, you can use the coupon code — WINNER — and get $10 off. Currently that makes Writing Alchemy about $5 cheaper to purchase through us. And shipping is FREE.

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    What a Memoir Writer Can Learn from the Movie Inside Out

    by Matilda ButlerOctober 20, 2015
    What a Memoir Writer Can Learn from the Movie Inside Out

    Learn how Disney/Pixar’s movie “Inside Out” can help you become a better memoir writer.

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    Memoir Writing: Why Do You Need Another Book About Writing?

    by Matilda ButlerJuly 28, 2014
    Memoir Writing: Why Do You Need Another Book About Writing?

    Check out this video about a solution to the frustrations writers have with their skill level.

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    Tips for Gift Baskets Featuring Books Take Center Stage…And Not Just for the Holidays

    by Kendra BonnettNovember 30, 2013
    Tips for Gift Baskets Featuring Books Take Center Stage…And Not Just for the Holidays

    Readers love books. When you complement your books with theme-based and holiday treats and goodies and package them in bright boxes festooned with ribbons and bows, you can light up the eyes of every reader and writer on your gift list.

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    Writing Alchemy: It’s Been Around a Long Time

    by Matilda ButlerJuly 16, 2013
    Writing Alchemy: It’s Been Around a Long Time

    Women’s Memoirs finds a writing example for the mid-1800s that just may help you see how the elements of Writing Alchemy can help to better record our life experiences.

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    In Honor of Mothers…Stories and Gifts for You

    by Kendra BonnettMay 11, 2013
    In Honor of Mothers…Stories and Gifts for You

    In honor of Mother’s Day and all our mothers, Matilda and Kendra are giving away free, unlimited access to The [Essential] Women’s Memoir Writing Workshop. Find out how you can get all 21 lessons (a $109 value) free. This offer goes away at midnight Tuesday.

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    Writing Alchemy…2013 Best Nonfiction Book

    by Kendra BonnettMay 6, 2013
    Writing Alchemy…2013 Best Nonfiction Book

    Writing Alchemy wins the 2013 Best Nonfiction Book Award at the 45th Annual Conference of the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. Matilda was there to receive the honor.

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