Detail Work

Over at YA Highway, Veronica Roth has a great post about why the details matter:

“Details are what build a world, what build a character. And when you’re like me and the same descriptions come to mind over and over again, or you find it difficult to describe things with any specificity, details are where you can return to ground your story and your characters.

The best ones feel like little revelations about a character or a story– John Lennon draping himself over chairs, or Craig sitting down when he pees, or Regina popping antacids. The best ones are not obvious or cliche, but unique enough to be memorable, and not so odd that they take you out of the story as you read.”

I like that she mentions that details need to be focused. You can’t just have your character collect baseball cards or do handstands in math class for no reason. What do these details offer your characters and their emotional journey, and how will readers interact with these details?

Veronica also shares some of the YA Highway team’s favorite character details as well.

One of my favorite details is from Judy Blume’s Just as Long as We’re Together. Stephanie and her new friend Alison are hanging out one afternoon and mention they both used to collect Barbies. They end up getting the Barbies out of storage and playing around with them for a little while. Afterward, they promise not to tell anyone about it. I remember reading this when I was in middle school and it struck me as the perfect combination of silliness and nostalgia that you can only share with a good friend when you’re that age. It’s a delicate balance between childhood and maturity, and sometimes you want to slip back into those old games. This moment shows that Stephanie and Alison are still trying to manage that balance, and feel comfortable enough with each other to act like a kid every once in a while.

What character-revealing details have struck you?

One thought on “Detail Work

  1. LadyGrave says:

    This makes me think about my own writing, and makes me want to look over it a bit more closely to see if I’m putting in the right sorts of details.

    I think Tamora Pierce is really good at creating intriguing characters with brief, well-placed details. Her school stories, like The Protector of the Small quartet, are so good because all of the secondary characters feel very real and familiar, even when you realize that very few actual words have been given in the service of their characterization. Merric is red-headed and easily embarrassed, Faleron is handsome and soft-spoken and needs help with mathematics, Neal drawls when he talks and squawks when he’s angry and wears his hair swept back from a widow’s peak. These little things, well-worded and judiciously placed, are enough to create the illusion of fully-realized human beings with whom you’d want to spend your day.

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