The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gamergate's Failure (Cooking Up Something for the Geeks)

I'm working on an Ace of Geeks article (that will probably go live sometime next week) so as per usual when I'm writing for another blog, I'm going to do a promo for the LAST article I wrote.

Be sure and Follow W.A.W. on social media if you want to get Ace of Geeks and Grounded Parents articles as soon as they are posted.

This article I wrote about Gamergate was an instant hit. Find out why everything Gamergate tried to do failed so spectacularly.

In the history of fail, there have been few examples quite thorough as Gamergate. Whatever momentum they briefly held in their championing the ethical treatment of video game journalism has been fully eclipsed by an increasing awareness that they are behaving like toddlers with overfull diapers. Sexist toddlers. With potty mouths.
You may have noticed that they're kind of becoming a joke these days.

You almost (but not quite) have to feel bad for the sincere. (I mean the really sincere, not the ones twisting themselves into pretzels to justify their sexism.) Their struggle is like watching a two year old get more and more incensed at the adults laughing at their meltdown. The more red faced they get, the more they scream and stamp their feet and the more the adults giggle. "Awwwwwwwww. Who needs a nap and their baba?"

Read on at Ace of Geeks....

Friday, December 19, 2014

So You Want to Start Your Own Blog (Part 2: Prep)

Return to Part 1

Part two in our series of advice to would be bloggers. Because people keep asking me for advice about how they should blog. And they keep not believing that I know jack shit. So here is another installment of the sum and substance of my meager (and I do mean meager) wisdom.

Remember I'm not the right person to ask about SEO optimization, self promotion strategies, "getting the most from your blog" tweaks, how to scale your actionable synergy, or bleeding edge branding strategies. I'm just a writer, and if any of that shit looks like it's going to take too much time and energy away from writing, I don't bother with it. So what I can tell is what's easy to do, leaves you time to focus on your art, but still works.

OKAY....so...you've definitely thought about whether or not you even want to blog, and you're sure you want to take the plunge into the ocean of pain, suffering, and regular updates whether you "feel inspired" or not. I like your style, masochist. But let's not fire up that first post just yet. (Don't worry, you'll feel like you've been doing this like Sisyphus in no time.) Trust me though, that you're going to appreciate taking a moment to think a few things through before you start punching keys.


Before you dig into the seedy, underpaid, unglamorous, unglorious, and woefully un-groupie-threesomed world of blogging, you might want to do a little bit of preparation to get yourself ready to rock. Yes, you could dive right in like that idiot Chris did, but if there's one fucking thing I learned looking back, it's that I wish someone had told me this shit instead of all that mind numbing fecal explosion about "search engine optimization" and domain names.

Try your hand at some serious guest blogging. Seriously, I can't stress this enough.

Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops boy. Writing a blog isn't exactly the same as journaling or even whipping up six college essays a semester. You may have a few good ideas in your head and you want to write about them, but do you really have hundreds? Thousands? Enough to keep writing at a regular pace for years? The expectation that one will simply sit down, fire off those good ideas that have been marinating for years, and the accolades will start rolling in is seductive.

And bullshit.

Seductive bullshit. A huge pile of it. And if you've ever woken up next to a pile of bullshit that successfully seduced you, you know that it's not your proudest moment.

It also won't respect you in the morning.

Yes, you will come up with new ideas, but you'll be shocked at how fast the exciting "new-relationship-energy" of blogging will wear off and it will be an obligation that you don't always look forward to like a puppy to its human coming home with a ball. It's good to get a realistic sense of how much of a drag "Crap, I have to write an article for tomorrow" can be. Once the glitter and the excitement has worn off, are you still going to want to be doing this, or are you going to be sitting there with a blog that has eight entries, trying not to feel like a failure.

It's a really good idea to do some guest blogging before you jump in the water. I know you'll probably feel like you're giving all your best ideas away to some other website, but I promise you that 1) you'll come up with new ideas, 2) you'll be able to retool the ideas you use into new articles that have a fresh (and better) take on the subject, and 3) you will value the experience of the cold, hard reality more than the few ideas you give up.

Finding a blog to write for is easy. Just find one that is writing about a subject you want to tackle and send them an e-mail. Most blogs are always looking for guest bloggers (Writer's note: yes, even W.A.W.) They would love the chance to have a day off or to be noticed by a few of your friends. And you will be noticed by their readers. (Then you have the added benefit of being able to poach a few initial readers when you start your own blog.) Just keep in mind that unless you're writing for a major news media blog, you will almost certainly have to settle for the experience, the exposure, and maybe the promise of being bought a drink someday. (W.A.W. promises to share the proceeds if there are any, but it would take a very popular article to reach that point.)

If you are thinking to yourself "the promise of 'exposure' is total bullshit" you're right....if someone approaches YOU to write for THEM.  But it's a sad reality of guest blogging--especially if you're unknown. A single article would have to get tens of thousands of clicks to even cover the postage of sending you a check (or the Paypal service fee). So unless you go uberviral, there's not much chance of you making enough money from a single entry for the blog to matter.

What kind of blog do you want to write?

Blog about something. The worst answer you could give is "I dunno....whatever."

For starters, you have robots crawling your site looking for how to put it on search engines. The more topics you cover, the more those robots won't know what the hell to do with you. But more than that, it's about who comes to your site. Who stays. And who becomes a fan.

Basically, unless you're famous, blogs are not journals. You can get your friends interested in your journal....maybe. Although we may have jumped the shark on social media journalling altogether. I definitely remember about ten years ago when most people were introduced to me by their Livejournal handles. (Hi, I'm Dicedork! This is Flimontheflam.) However most of us seem to have culturally moved on. Not that there aren't still some journalers out there entertaining their friends (even on LJ), but you would probably have to be outrageously funny, endlessly fascinating, or already famous for people to tune in to your blog about....whatever.

The best blogs are about something. Politics. Skepticism. Religion. Science. Cooking. Writing. SOMETHING. You might think that you can broaden your audience by broadening your topic base, but it actually will work just the opposite. The more topics you try to cover, the fewer people are going to be interested in most of them.

It's not that you can't have an off-topic post once in a while or shoehorn some really interesting thing that happened to you into the container of writing (~cough~), but you mostly want to stay on topic--and on a narrow topic.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the tighter the subject focus of your blog, the more people are probably going to subscribe. It might be a little harder to find them if your topic is really esoteric, but you will be their one-stop "Esotericsubject"shop. Once people know what to expect, they are more likely to be interested. I swear to god some of the most popular blogs out there are these bizarrely specific topics like "Doctor Who Memes and Cooking on a Five Dollar Budget" or "Social Justice in Metropolitan Parks." It's because people will always know what they're getting when they visit these blogs. One of the most successful bloggers I know writes ONLY about Warhammer 50k miniatures strategy games. That's it. If it's not a report of a convention game, an evaluation of a unit, a preview of an upcoming expansion, or whatever, he doesn't write about it. He has ten times the traffic I do right now.

Here's why this works even though it seems like it shouldn't: if you're the only vegan, gluten free, sugar free, ethnic cookies recipe blogger out there, you will get every single person interested in vegan, gluten free, sugar free, ethnic cookies subscribed to your blog. They know that EVERY SINGLE entry you write is going to be something they're interested in. If you write for a blog that writes about anything that fits vaguely under the umbrella of "Geek Culture" you're up against about fifty million other blogs that do the same thing in addition to ones that focus on video games or movies or whatever.

And before you ask, there are a metric shitton of writing blogs out there, and even several that are deliciously snarky and drop the f-bomb several times per entry. Even though almost none that have a cheese guy living on the second floor of their compound, this is why I live on diet of Raman and shame.

Can you blog about nothing? Or broad topics? Of course. Do what you love. There's no reason to be writing anyway. But if you want to find your niche audience, the trick is to go narrow.

Decide how often you want to post. Or more accurately, how often you can afford to post.

One of the biggest factors in how quickly your blog will grow is the consistency with which you write. If you just fire off an entry when you are motivated and the spirit moves you and there's no more Orange is the New Black on Netflix and you're not doing a Dominion tournament with your friends that night, and, and, and......not too many people will likely subscribe to your blog's updates. They'll just click through when you pique their interest. And that means they won't even know you've posted if they're not in a place you can market to.

What will get people to subscribe is the anxiety that they might miss something awesome if they don't. If they know you're writing every day, and they really like your work, they will subscribe (or follow you on various social media). If they know you only write infrequently, you won't give them that "gotta catch em' all" anxiety.

You want your posting schedule to remain relatively consistent. You can fiddle with the knobs once you're up and running and it won't bother too many people, but if you make broad, sweeping changes to the entire fundamental structure of your blog in mid-stream, you're going to lose some readers. People like the comfort of their routines. A blog that suddenly goes from a monthly post to daily posting will be seen as suddenly becoming overwhelming (even by people who gladly read daily blogs). A blog that does the reverse will be seen as having been abandoned (even by people who gladly read monthly blogs).

I logged back in after a month and found thirty back entries.
Forget it. No one needs ethnic cookies THAT badly.

One last thing to keep in mind here is that this will relate directly to how quickly your blog will grow. I know bloggers who have been at it for two (and in one case almost three) times longer than me, many of whom are terribly jealous of my numbers–which are still quite modest. Every time they wonder what my secret is, I find out that they're writing one post a week or a couple of times a month. I write a post every day, including weekends, and even do some funky jazz hands posts when I'm on vacation. I'm like a sweatshop worker in a southeast Asian country--that's the only reason I have the (modest) numbers I do. The more you write, the faster you will grow.

Check the regular advice. 

There's some stuff I can't tell you because I don't care.

Seriously, I understand it's a thing, but I couldn't give a shit. I'm interested in philosophical questions about blogging vs. writing and the "real cost" of self-promotion vs. art. I don't particularly care about whether or not I have my own domain name. I figure most people who want to find me will find me no matter what my blog's domain name is. I already spend too much time on social media (and not writing), so I'm not going to work any harder to develop the ultimate self promotion plan. I couldn't care less that I'm using one of Blogger's pre-generated templates.

So there's all this bullshit out there that isn't writing. It's more like webpage design, search engine optimization, and social media integration. It gives me a headache, and I would rather write.

But you have to decide for yourself how important that stuff is to you. I could give fuck all, but you might want to really focus on that stuff. And if you Google "How to start a blog" or something similar, you will discover that 99% of the advice you're going to find is about this stuff. They won't tell you to guest blog or how important it is to establish a posting schedule or a topic. They're going to talk about how to get your own domain name and where to post your articles to get the most hits.


I don't care for that stuff, but you might. So I would at least give yourself a few hours of reading the "typical" advice, so you can come to your own conclusions about how much you want to be a writer vs. how much you want to mess with being a webmaster.

Blogger or Wordpress? Or.....are you going rogue? 

There is one decision you have to make right away, and it will matter. You have to decide your blogging platform. Now unless you want to journal (in which case you might use Livejournal, G+, or Facebook Notes) or you want to post a LOT of GIFs and images in with your writing (in which case Tumblr or Quora), you basically have two choices. Blogger or Wordpress. There are a lot of platforms that are better for vloggers or photographers or podcasters, but I'm going to assume you're mostly going to be writing. If you want to pay money to host your blog, it opens up a few other options–like Typepad or Ghost–but these options aren't necessarily better than their free counterparts.

Your basic choice is Blogger vs. Wordpress. And this is the difference: Blogger is going to be a lot easier to use. Wordpress can do more.

Let me explain to you how I deal with computers. When my computer breaks, I stand there looking pathetic and say, "We look for things. Things that make us go." When someone who understands computers comes along, I kidnap them and hope their buddies don't have a crimson force field.

Computer people are smart. They will make our blog strong.

For me, picking Blogger was a no brainer. On a good day, I can figure out how to turn my computer ON without help. I needed the template with the plug-and-play widgets and the "Click here to host ads!" button. I needed to pick a template and have everything preset to the right geometry. I needed a program that would auto-format for mobile visitors. Even though I know that I could do more with Wordpress, for me it's a lot easier to just have the option to click a button to get what I want. (Some day, if W.A.W. is ever making pay-the-bills money, I will establish a Wordpress mirror site.) I prefer macs for the same reason, much to the chagrin of my computer science engineer roommate.

If you like configurability, have skill with HTML, or just don't mind taking a lot longer to figure out what the fuck you just did that made every letter as big as an entire screen, you might prefer Wordpress. It can do more. It can be snazzier and you have far greater options with it's tools. For example, I would love to have drop down menus on those tabs at the top of the screen. Instead each opens a page with sub directories. Drop down menus are pretty easy to whip up on Wordpress if you know what you're doing because Wordpress can do more. In Blogger they require basically recoding your entire site. I took one look at how to do it and my bowels evacuated as fight or flight set in.

You may want to consider one other thing if your writing is "fringe" subject matter (hate speech, legally questionable erotica, wildly controversial, or something). Blogger doesn't hold a copyright on your writing, but it does host your blog. So, in theory, they could just shut it down one day with no warning. Wordpress can host your website (with the same risks) or you can just use their program as your blogging tool, and host your blog yourself. Then no one can just shut you down.

Now I don't know what any of that means, but it sounds like something some writers might be paranoid about. I will say this: the last time blogger shut down a bunch of blogs in the news, it was pedophilia erotica with stock pictures of little kids as the preview image, so...I'm having a hard time whipping up even a little bit of outrage at the censorship of it all.

Give yourself a couple of days to figure out the learning curve.

When you log in, you're going to see a zillion things you don't understand. You may not even be able to figure out how to post. You won't know what the hell buttons do, or have any sense of how to go about getting what you want. You will just see this wall of strange buttons: "Labels; Schedule; Posts; Permalink; Layout; Stats; Options...." You might feel a bit overwhelmed.

It's fucking worse than Sims 3...which at least has a tutorial.

Don't run. Don't panic. Don't go tarn. Just relax and trust me that in a day you're going to understand the basics, and in a month you'll be an old pro. Give yourself an afternoon to fiddle around with the buttons and figure out how things work.

Decide if you want to make money.

Yes, do this now. Do it before you start. Decide if you are going to make money.

Pretentious? Maybe. Presumptuous? Almost certainly.

Do it anyway.

If you navigate the world of "How to start a blog" posts like I did, you're going to find very quickly that there are certain bits of advice that everybody repeats.  (Write high quality stuff, not keyword rich filler; post consistently; etc...) While four different posts might have 80% completely different advice, that 20% is something they all agree on. That's when you know it's probably good advice.

So I want you to understand the gravitas when I tell you that just about every website had this one piece of advice: "If you're going to host ads on your blog, do it RIGHT AWAY." Do it from day one, even if you only have ten readers and make a penny every two weeks.

Here's why....

I make about five dollars a day at Writing About Writing.
Selling out never felt so good.
People get really upset, on principle, if you start to make money at something you used to do for free. They'll think you're selling out. It doesn't even matter if you're charging them or not, but just the fact that you're making money will get them incensed. Study after study shows that people will totally support something that had ads from the beginning, but will abandon that same exact thing if it adds advertising later on where there wasn't any prior. Livejournal is a great example of this. Many people dealt happily with dozens of websites each day that hosted ads, but when Livejournal included ads (after years of being ad-free), people LOST. THEIR. SHIT and left in droves.

A lot of bloggers make the mistake of saying they will "go commercial" when they reach a certain point. (10,000 followers or a million page views.) The problem is that a bunch of people will leave when the blogger starts hosting ads, and so the blogger has to recoup that loss.

Let me make this clear again, these are not people who would have left anyway. These are not people who "don't read commercial blogs." They wouldn't have NOT joined if they'd showed up and seen ads to begin with. These are people who will resent the perception they have that something has changed for the worse–worse being materialism. (Because god forbid a writer make money for something they do hours a day for the entertainment of others.)

Better to just decide ahead of time and host ads if you're going to.

Part 3 Coming Soon

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who Is the Best Y.A. Author? (Poll)

John Bellairs
Who is the best young adult author?  

It's time for our December poll and we have JUST few enough authors to do a single poll rather than a runoff. So we will start immediately and run the poll for two weeks.  

This is an author poll, not a book poll. Consider the author's whole career and all the books they've written. To that point, however, since this is a young adult poll, please limit yourselves to their works of YOUNG ADULT FICTION. If they also wrote adult fiction or children's books, you should leave that out of your decision.

Everyone will get five votes (5).  That's a lot of votes, but before you simply vote for your favorite five, consider that you somewhat dilute the effect of each--as there is no ranking of those five votes. So if you have a genuine favorite--or pair of favorites--it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side at the bottom of the side menus. It is black and will be rather long.

Please don't forget that Polldaddy (the program that runs the polls and tabulates the results) will log your IP address for only a week. After that, you can vote again. Since I can't really stop people, I might as well work it into the system. Vote early! Vote often!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Triumphant Return

I'm home in Oakland, and I can now reveal something that you likely had NO idea about. That I was not in Texas to see my mother, and we did not take a "charming little day trip to New Orleans." I was actually part of a top secret operation to thwart a multi-team consortium of super villains engaged in an uberheist to steal the French Quarter from New Orleans.

That's right. They were going to steal the entire French Quarter, and one of the really good cajun places in the Garden District too.

But good will always triumph as long as we're not too busy with our own shit, and it's at least a living wage. A conglomerate of multiple cities' crime fighting units went in in a hail Mary operation to stop them. It was a million to one. So we added a lot more heroes until the odds were better, and then we went in.

However, these superhero teams were short a number of side kicks because of finals. (Side kicking is a popular job for students and villains plan their heists accordingly.) So I flew out to shore up some of their defenses...and do a lot of dishes.

It was not an easy battle. One of the worst I've ever side kicked for. I ended up nearly suffocated on Bourbon Street by some smelly cheese after being attacked by the French villainy team "Sacre Bleu." But we won. They formed a line they thought was impenetrable, and...you know honestly, I would think they were pretty tired of this joke by now.

Anyway, I'm glad I can tell you all about it now instead of living that horrible lie and making Cedric write about vacations and family and lackadaisical, carefree time off. I'm sorry he had to deceive you like that. I'm home now, nursing my wounds, and spending the day cleaning up some old blog menus and entries and getting ready for tomorrow's poll.

Because here at Writing About Writing, it might look like we're taking a week off for vacation, but we're actually too slavishly devoted to page views to stop writing.

And we're probably fighting French super villains anyway.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Do I Describe Things? (Mailbox)

How do I explain visual detail that I feel I need to explain?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Monday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox, but likely only if you ask a question. And don't be afraid to ask about the inner circle secrets of writing.]     

Tom asks:  

When I sit down and try to write something, I get to a point in the story where I need to visually describe an object or a character that a reader is seeing for the first time.

I get through the basics well enough...but then it comes to the part where I need to talk about visual detail.

Nonsensical descriptions fly through my head like "curvy-pointy-thingy" to try and explain a particular part of a building or object when I can't think of other words to use, or using 'corner' to describe a position on a round building equidistant from 3 other locations around the circumference, even though I know that round objects obviously have no corners.

I know it's not critical to a story to always have visual detail outlined in that fashion, but when I feel that it is and I need to explain it in order to get my point across to someone who would be reading it, it becomes a battle that just ends in me feeling stupid.

So my question here...are there resources that you may be familiar with that are good aides in describing visual details?

My reply:

You mean besides me, your one-stop-writing-help shop?

I love this question Tom, because it lets me show of one of the real bits of magic that writers do. It’s not about grammar or yet another "Yes, I’m really serious you should write every day" question. It's not about process or about craft elements that every writer uses. It’s about magic unique to fiction. You may not realize it, but a good writer is an illusionist, and you’ve just asked about one of our best tricks. (Hope the cabal doesn’t come after me for making the secret available to anyone.) Of course each writer does their illusion in a slightly different way, but the basic spell is identical.

One of the biggest problems that young writers have is trust. Like the young magician who believes that everyone will see past their slight of hand, young writers don’t have faith in their illusions. But the seasoned magician and writer both know that if they grab your attention with the right distractions, you will see exactly what they want you to see.

Young writers believe that their tender ideas are delicate and fragile and can’t withstand the perverted imaginations of their readers. They believe their readers have thick calloused, hands and that their imaginative visions are wispy diaphanous images that can be blown apart by a strong breeze. They believe that they must tediously describe every detail in order for the reader to see what they see.

None of these things is actually true.

First of all your story is tough. It’s more like thick leather and working it takes some muscle and sinew. There may be some detail work that is important to get right but the thick strips that get worked over and over are hard to mess up. Your readers will also take more care than you might ever think possible with your—sometimes even more care than you will.

But a lot of young writers don’t trust their readers very much. They tell them what to think, what to feel, exacting detail of a scene to the point that it slows down their narrative and becomes cumbersome, thick, uninteresting reading.

Consider if I describe the front of a restaurant with a host/hostess station situated like a giant podium with a marble top the color of  storm cloud grey and polished to a reflective shine. Behind the podium is a huge brass framed antique mirror. A basket stuffed with bright red and green Christmas kids menus and a bucket full of brand new primary color crayons resting near a big map of the restaurant with an electronic display lighting what tables are ready to be seated?


Can you picture that?

I don't know if this is accurate, but it's neat.
Notice I didn’t actually give you a lot of detail? I described a mirror, a station, some crayons and kids menus and the electronic display. But I didn’t tell you how many feet the station it was from the front door. I didn’t tell you if it was situated in front of or off to the side of the bar or lounge area. I didn’t tell you what the base of the station was made out of or whether it had a cash register on it. I didn’t describe the floors, the walls, the ceiling. I didn’t tell you what color the lights were on the electronic display or whether it was a snazzy digital display like a touch computer screen or just a tiny lightbulbs pushed through a construction paper map. 

I left a lot of the details up to you, the reader. And that’s okay. You have to trust readers. Each reader comes fully equipped with their very own Mark IV Imagination Engine.

Now, I pictured a restaurant where I used to manage called The Old Spaghetti Factory—specifically the Concord store. I COULD have described all that stuff, but it just would have bogged you down with details that might be hard to imagine anyway.  (“It was fifteen feet from the double doors that were made of thick frosted glass. The walls were a dark cherry wood that absorbed the light and gave the place a twilight feel even during lunch. A 45-light chandler hung over the waiting area from vaulted ceilings and the bar was to the right. Mirrors lined the left wall as well and were adorned with angelic faces and blah blah blah….”) However, it’s actually going to be more effective if I let you do a lot of that imagination.

You may have imagined your favorite restaurant in your home town or even a Denny’s where you ate every week after choir practice. Does your place have a marble top host/hostess station? Was the bucket of crayons on it? How about the mirror? The electronic map?  But those details aren’t hard for you to add.

Regardless of what you imagine, you will incorporate the details I want more easily if I don’t try to completely hijack your imagination—just give it a little nudge in the direction I want it to go. It’s easy for you to incorporate the mirror or the electronic map of the restaurant even if the place you’re thinking of doesn’t have either of those things.

But how do you let go of all those other details? What happens if your reader gets it wrong? Well, that’s exactly the right question to ask. What happens if your reader is imagining Denny’s instead of The Old Spaghetti Factory? Does that change your story? Is it important? Is your main character only able to run fifteen feet from the door before collapsing from the gunshot wound? Will your theme of duty vs. desire be fundamentally altered if the bar is to the right or the left of the host/hostess station?

The answer is almost always that it does not matter. You just need to let go and trust your reader to imagine the parts you fill in. And so the first trick up a writer’s magic sleeve is called significant detail. This is where the details that the writer chooses to share are the details that MATTER.

Why do they matter? That’s up to you.

I won't rehash that whole significant detail article I linked above, but possible reasons for including the details would be because they will come into play later on in the story (the narrator will see themselves in the mirror), that they reflect some thematic aspect of the story (the character is also grey, melancholy and reflective), a subtle way to get in exposition (it's Christmas!), that a focalizer character is noticing these details and it's characterizing themselves (you'll learn that your narrator is a kid because they're most interested in the neat map display and crayons).

Think of it this way, Tom. The key to a good lie is not to describe the moment in exacting detail. “Yes, honey I was late because a Mazda Miata, driven by a six foot tall German with large muscles wearing green slacks and a purple shirt plowed into the red Toyota Supra driven by a nun at twenty-two miles an hour creating on the corner of fifth and main street six cars ahead of me.” Nor do you want to be vague. “I got into an accident.” A great lie has a detail or two (and that’s it) that make it pop and give it that sound of reality. “Oh my god you should have seen this tiny nun in full habit screaming up at this six foot, power lifter German who looked like he was back in Catholic school. Stopped traffic for blocks. That’s why I’m late.” That detail makes the whole thing seem real.

And after all what is fiction but a very involved lie (hopefully a lie that tells the truth).

Here’s where the real cool part comes in. When you describe the bits that are significant, use concrete imagery. (That's another link you should check out separately since it's too long to review fully here.) When those details you DO share "pop," your reader will be under the illusion that the entire scene has been described just as lushly even though it’s THEIR imagination filling in MOST of the details. If you were to describe the nubs of old crayons and that waxy smell, your reader would feel like they were there even though you have still left out almost 100% of the description. You’ve tricked them into doing all the work and falling for your illusion. Concrete images include colors, shapes, smells, and adjectives that pop (though never so many that they become distracting), but also surprising metaphors that help your reader to envision something, but also trust them to do it in their own way.

Yes, love the metaphor when you're describing something. I could fill a paragraph with a detailed description of the aliens from Champions of Earth, cataloguing their every detail, the joints in their legs, their arm extensions, their body parts, the number of eyes. But how much easier to describe one or two details about their ugly faces and call them "spider centaurs." Yeah you might not be picturing them "perfectly," but that's okay. If I describe the ships as triangular masses covered with hundreds of bubbles, bumps, and spiny protrusions, you might envision a Star Destroyer type ship or a cross between a Stargate pyramid ship and a blowfish, but it doesn't really matter unless that detail is absolutely vital to your story.

The other trick when you're doing this is to drizzle your description instead of hitting it like one big block of exposition. Think of it like cheese (the cheese guy on the second floor insisted on a shout out). Melt a little over the entree, and it'll be great as it livens up every single bite, but very few people can really sit down and eat a block of the stuff unless they are just one huge fan of that kind of cheese. One detail here and one there and one a little further on and you don't have to bore up your story with paragraphs of the stuff. If you have a focalizer they can notice things piecemeal. If you are writing through an omniscient narrator you can just decide when the reader needs to know.

You can't do that in other art forms. In film or painting, all the detail you want has to be in the art. But in fiction, you can weave the illusion.

Obviously some writers use a lot more description than others, but they often bog down the reader. This is more of a stylistic difference, but it can matter. Only the most die hard fans of Tolkien have gutted through every lush description of the countryside in Lord of the Rings (most prefer the equivalent of the Willow travel montage--field, waterfall, cliffs, forest, now they're at the crossroads) and even people who like Anne Rice have skimmed through seventeen pages of plantation geography or a precision description of twins that reads like a blueprint schematic. On the other hand, Steinbeck writes rich descriptions of setting at the beginning of almost every chapter of most of his books, but they are rarely more than a page and they usually reflect the thematic conflict to come. A reader breezes through them and then feels an intense connection with the story even though Steinbeck does VERY LITTLE direct description of his characters other than a few significant details (like Lenny's size or Jim Casey's resemblance to a certain other J.C.).

See how the magic works there? You're so busy with the details he does give you, that you fill in the rest into an almost perfect mind's eye movie.  Most writers who are popular (commercially and literarily) limit themselves to the details that are significant, and let their readers do the rest of that work.

And the key is trust. Trust your ability to do magic, Tom. This is one of the greatest powers of fiction.