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Why Do We Need Details When Writing?

In A Probabilistic Way.

September 27, 2015

The professor of my writing course always tells me the importance of details. It is important that you give enough “significant” details in your writing, since that are the things readers usually love to read. But why?

Life would probably be boring if you repeat again and again, and to avoid it, you probably need new and interesting things. As a reader would read an article to relax, those things are probably what they expect while reading.

(property X new) -> (not (property X boring))

Now consider the probability theory. If you conjunct two events together, the probability it happens would be equal or less than any of the probability of a single event happens.

(<= (probability (and A B)) (probability A))

By definitions, if you have more details, you would conjunct more events, and thus the probability that it happen would be equal or less than the probability of another event with less details.

(<= (probability (detail A)) (probability (detail B)))
(> A B)

Finally, if a event of little probability happens, there’s a high chance that it is a new event for the encounter, and thus the reader would be more likely to be willing to read.

Significant Details

However, as people has figured out, sometimes just adding details may not work. The problem remains in the above equations:

(or (< (probability (detail A)) (probability (detail B)))
    (= (probability (detail A)) (probability (detail B))))
(> A B)

Adding more details may reduce the probability, but it may also make the probability remain the same. Attracting readers can only be done by adding “significant” details – that is, details that can significantly reduce the probability.

Other Ways

Based on the above equations, we find that significant details are not the only way to write good articles. Besides that, we can also talk about events that it itself has a low probability to have happened. For example, the below short novel doesn’t contain any “significant” details, but most of the readers would find it appealing:

The last person on the earth sitting in the room, and someone knocked the door.

Zero Probability

We should also note that the above method doesn’t mean lower possibility events are always better. If an event is of zero possibility, then a reader wouldn’t think it is new (and appealing), but impossible. For example, the below story also has a really low possibility to happen, but many readers wouldn’t think it is an interesting story:

The dog ate the earth.