Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Material Details

People -- authors, editors, reviewers, teachers, the guy behind the Starbucks counter -- have been saying this since the dawn of writing: "DETAILS. DETAILS. DETAILS."
(Okay, maybe more so the teacher than the Starbucks guy, unless your oder goes something like this... You: I want coffee. Starbucks Guy: Okay, what kind? You: The liquid kind. Starbucks Guy: DETAILS. DETAILS. DETAILS.)

In fact, if this horse we're beating on isn't dead already, it soon will be. (Ha, see how I used a cliche to describe a repeated topic?) Yet there is a reason society is slowly bringing death upon the poor animal: details are definitely important, especially when it comes to describing characters.

And here follows the burning question: but HOW?

As in, but HOW should details be incorporated without seeming too bland or repetitive or much or little or fake?

In response, my advice would be this: get to know your characters, their personality, hobbies, traits...and, most importantly in regard to details, their appearance and possessions. That's right, I'm telling you to be material. Because once you know everything about your character, you can pick and choose the most important things (and usually sticking to the important things + a few fun facts is a safe way to avoid "too much/repetitive"). Readers can infer a lot from just a few descriptive details.

As an example, I'll infer about myself today, like I'm my own character, which should be amusing. Ha ha. My backpack's contents will allow you to infer a bit about me.

Item #1: Folder with printed pages of stories along with Important Forms To Be Signed. This indicates I'm as worried about my stories getting lost as I am the IFTBS.

Item #2: Half-full bag of Jolly Ranchers, with all of the greens and blues gone. This could mean I like greens and blues, or I've given them all away because I don't like them at all. (Bingo.)

Item(s) #3: Three calculators, one graphing and two scientific. Indicates I have too many calculators.

Item #4: Unopened pomegranate hand lotion. Indicates I like pomegranates and hand lotion but always forget about using it because it's buried under three books, which I get distracted by if I ever go looking for it.

Item(s) #5: Four spiral-bound notebooks, three-point-four of which are full. Indicates I use notebooks for writing more than just math homework and chem notes.

Item #6: Time-turner keychain. Indicates (quite correctly) I'm a huge Harry Potter nut, and I like shiny things that spin around and around and around.

Just mentioning any of the above would be enough in the story to add a few interesting details. Any other ways you've used to not over/underburden your writing with description?