Friday, April 1, 2011

How to Add Character Details in a Story?

For me it’s a personal  favourite to add  the physical details of my characters in  my stories. When I read Little Women, I was surprised. The author had not given  that many  character/physical details about the four sisters. We  readers just knew that the sisters had different traits and personalities.

If it were left to me, I would have given several details about each of the four sister’s physical attributes. This becomes tricky when there are many characters introduced in a book. The reader  can get really bored with too many details. But,  if few details were to creep into the story in different ways, I am sure the readers would not mind.

 I could not stop smiling when I read my student’s stories.  It reminded me of my own writing when I started out. Every detail of the characters was shoved into the first paragraph: the tall, dark, thin man with a handle bar moustache, dressed in a black pant and blue shirt, his black hair thinning at the sides, grinned, revealing  crooked teeth. Once upon  a long time  back I could be accused of that.  This kind of writing overwhelms the poor reader. Only  few of my students had paid attention to my advice, which I will share with you.

Keep other people’s descriptions as a trigger to reveal something about the character.

The lady’s thick, silky  and lustrous hair  was much like mine, before pregnancy and ill health played havoc with it. Now it was reduced to wisps which was  like  a threadbare carpet through which my scalp was seen.

Let the descriptions come at the most unexpected moments.

There was a knock on the door. The room was lit momentarily when flashes of  lightening cleaved the sky. He walked towards the door, his body stooped like a comma, his arthritic limbs made every step a torture.

The details can crop up during conversations.

“I am not going,” she said, playing with a lock of her long and curly hair. “Don’t force me,” her thick lips quivered.

Add a teeny weeny character detail when we are describing something important.

Scratching the big mole on his chin, out of which sprouted few long hairs, he  watched the two teams  battling it out in the stadium. The crowd roared everytime  a boundary or a sixer was hit.

A detail can creep up while another character’s action is being described.

She watched him moving to the buffet table. It was his third trip to load his plate. If not for her chronic acidity, she too would have indulged in gluttony.

I am always looking around for ways to add details. How do you all add the details of a character’s physical appearance or other details? Do you like to read these details or do you prefer to be taken directly into the thick of  the action? What techniques do you use when you are adding details in your own stories? Please share with us.

Picture Credit and Copyright Melissa Crytzer Fry



20 comments:

  1. Wow! What a amazing post, Rachna. You have simplified and explained so beautifully the ways to add character details. I am envious of your students. Wish I had a teacher like you.

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  2. Great post. I like to filter in details during movement--it seems to come out so much more naturally that way.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  3. Thanks for that, Rachna, I'm always torn between character and adventures, writing for children as I do, however, I'm slowly increasing the very little description I include. Kind regards, Carole.

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  4. I love it when authors subtly show character details through action and dialogue! It's clever to do it that way because it maintains the pacing and keeps up with the story's flow.

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  5. great post. Weaving the descriptions in always works better than info dumps. Great examples.

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  6. Good stuff! Am working on a chapter now and have been working to add just the right balance of detail. I particularly like using conversation when I can. Have a great weekend!

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  7. This is great, Rachna. Definitely something I need to improve on and you have described it in such a straight-forward and easy to understand way. :)

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  8. Thanks for the wonderful advice ma'am Rachna.

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  9. I'm going to try and incorporate these ideas into my WIP. I really like the idea of infusing detail at unexpected moments.

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  10. This was great fun, Rachna! I will be on the lookout for "sneaky details".
    Thanks a million!

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  11. Hi friends...thanks for joining the discussion. Adding details was something I needed to work hard at. In the begining, I could be accused of dumping too much info on the readers. Now, I consciously avoid it, preferring to add details little by little.

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  12. Your examples were excellent, great writing. I do the same with my details.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

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  13. Bah! On info dumps. I beta read so many books where the writer packs a chapter of info dump into the book. UGH. I have to voice my opinion and say it made me want to stop reading.

    Super post, Rachna! Weaving in descriptions is the most satisfying way to do it for the reader. I just beta read a book where the girl looks into the mirror at her mousy brown hair. ARGH!

    (^_^)

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  14. Great thoughts and great examples Rachna!

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  15. Great post, I love adding character details too, though in shorter pieces these often get omitted. :O)

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  16. What a great post, Rachna. I personally don't like the long "info dumps" of description you hinted that your students create. Yet I do see PUBLISHED books using this technique. The peppering of details throughout work the best to me. In my first novel, I had someone say to me ..."Wow. You did something I've never seen before in a book. We don't get a physical description of the MC until chapter 5." What he missed was that there were a few subtle descriptions before the physical "size" & "haircolor" explanation. Maybe, as readers/writers, we've been conditioned too much to put it "all" out there at once?

    P.S. Thanks for using my photo! Fun to see it in a different setting :-).

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  17. Great post, Rachna. I agree with Melissa. I don't like character description dumps either. I liked your examples, too!

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  18. I love to find out what a character looks like but it has to come out organically in the story. So I totally agree with your points there. Writer's who tell me too much about what the characters look like can be tedious and it frustrates me.

    Jai

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  19. Very helpful post as usual, Rachna! I agree the best way to add details is to weave it into the story. Though I don’t like paras of endless description, I also don’t like it when the writer offers no description of the character at all. At least a little detail is better than nothing.

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  20. I agree with Melissa and Elizabeth. I don't like the character descriptions all at one time.. unless it is a treatment for painting or rendering a scene to be stilled in time. Then it becomes very helpful.. :). Never really have thought about until this moment. I love all of the examples you have given us. They describe duration of time passed and what life might have been like before they got there. They deliver a better well rounded internal and external snapshot, verses just a description of what the character looks like. Thank you this was very helpful to compare. Looks like I will need to make some changes in my own work. What form do you think the Hobbit is in? They too have many of characters.

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