Stories are built upon their strong skeletons of plot and structure. Each scene should contribute to the story, not wander away from it. Once all of this is in place, however, it is the details that change that plain flat cake with canned frosting on it into a many-tiered masterpiece.
Have you ever read a book where the details were just tossed in? Perhaps the character grabbed a glass from the cupboard in chapter 6, only to be randomly opening the cupboards in search of a glass in chapter 8. Sure, maybe the reader won’t notice, but what if they do? If your character is familiar with the kitchen in an earlier scene, they need to still be familiar with it in a later scene unless there is a good reason for it.
Likewise, if you have your character leave the house barefoot, they shouldn’t suddenly have shoes on without either returning to the house and getting their shoes, or someone gives them shoes for some reason.
It is a lot of work writing a good story. On top of all the characterizations, dialogue and scene structure you are saddled with all these details. It can be really tempting to just let that one detail slide… or perhaps you think you wrote down one thing, but you can’t remember what page it was on. No one will notice anyway, right?
This is what all that proofreading and editing is all about. If you don’t catch it yourself in your own proofing and editing sessions, it should be caught by an editor. This is one of the reasons why you need to proof and edit, proof and edit, proof and edit. As William Feather said, “Beware of the man who won’t be bothered with details.”
You can have the best story around, but if you muck up the details, the story won’t ring true. It won’t become that living, breathing experience that readers want. Would Doctor Who be as popular after all these years if they didn’t pay attention to the details? We recently watched the last season with the 11th Doctor. They had a theme throughout the entire season of a crack in time. By the time we got to the final episode, all those tiny details that we hadn’t even thought important throughout the season all came into play. It was a wonderful crafting that brought them all together in the end.
Whether you like that show or not is unimportant. The point is, you need to pay attention to the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a short story, a novella, or a full length novel. The details make the difference.