For basic information on nouns, visit this post at Almost an Author. Ms. Toler-Dougherty writes about how specific nouns need capitalized. For example, “church” vs. “Walnut Ridge Presbyterian Church”. But I leared from my editor Sharyn a different kind of specificity when it comes to nouns.

“Be specific!”

As my characters drive into the West Virginia mountains, I wrote about the shrubs growing close to the road and the trees making a ceiling overhead.

Sharyn said, “Be specific!”

She meant: What kind of trees? Eastern hemlock? Walnut? Coconut? What kinds of shrubs? Mountain laurel? Holly? What?

My characters sit down to a meal of soup and bread.

Sharyn said, “Be specific!”

What kind of soup? Tomato? Chicken noodle? Shark fin? What kind of bread? Whole wheat, white, or rye?

One reason I didn’t make my nouns more specific was because I didn’t think readers wanted that much detail. Another reason was I thought too many details would slow down the narrative.

That’s true if I describe the soup as “chicken noodle soup with lush, homemade noodles and thick chunks of chicken” when those details add nothing to the story. But just adding “chicken noodle” to “soup” helps the reader make a more vivid “work picture”, as Sharyn says.

I didn’t specify the plants and animals of the mountains because I didn’t know them that well.  But my narrator would because he has lived in the mountains all his life. So, instead of being lazy, I am doing research and will try to visit the location of my setting so I can get the species right. I won’t dwell on the botany of each plant, but writing “the red oaks and hickories made a canopy over our heads” sounds so much better than “the tall trees made a canopy over our heads.”

As long as I drop in the precise nouns just where they are needed, my story will be richer not slower.