The Devil is in the Details

Posted on Feb 19, 2015 by   18 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

The Devil’s in the Details or…building your own unique characters

by Maureen L. BonatchMaureen Bonatch

“I just met Yukon Cornelius.” My hubby tells me as he’s sharing a story from his day and a man he encountered, because he knows I’d immediately be able to envision the person he’s describing without him having to use any descriptive terms. I smiled as I recalled my favorite boisterous, quirky character from the Rudolph movies and a few of his plethora of quotes such as: 

Yukon: We’ll have to outwit the fiend with our superior intelligence.

Rudolph: How? 

Yukon: Douse your nose and run like crazy!

(For this and more fun Yukon Cornelius quotes click HERE ) 

But my hubby wasn’t talking about any of the personality that went along with this character, only his appearance. In making a comparison in your writing instead of describing the details of your character may end up with your reader becoming confused by your reference. Everyone might not know who Yukon was and you’d merely end up frustrating your reader. Or worse…have them step away from your story to look up this reference. Another thing to consider is that the ready-made character you’re referencing totally overshadows the character you’re building.

It’s true, that after I observed the gentleman my hubby referred to, he did resemble Yukon in appearance, but not at all in demeanor. Although I noticed something else first…the neon green glasses he wore.

The jaunty frames seemed an unusual choice of a man of his large frame and mature age. They made him unique. I wouldn’t have thought the brightly colored glasses were subtle, but my hubby hadn’t even noticed them. To me the glasses overshadowed everything else and would be the first step in building him into my own distinctive character. One that may resemble someone else but who had a much different personality that went along with his unusual glasses. Perhaps a warlock hid behind his quiet façade, or the glasses were a tool he utilized to maintain his human appearance…but I digress…

Don’t hit your reader over the head with overbearing or overwhelming details so that it pulls them out of the story and away from your character. Let them absorb the quirks and characteristics as unique as they are until your character stands out on their own while still fitting seamlessly into the story.

A few writer resources to get you started:

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein

Description & Setting: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places, and Events (Write Great Fiction) By Ron Rozelle

But better yet– find out on your own with a simple exercise you can do is with the people around you.

You can describe people that you know (without revealing who it is) to see if others can identify them. By appearance, quirky habits or mannerisms that make them unique. (Now be nice…)

Or try to describe how you think others would view you and see if you are close to the mark.

Author Bio:
Growing up with four siblings had Maureen familiar with escaping into a good book, or the recesses of her mind. She realized later in life everyone didn’t have characters telling stories in their heads, or weren’t envisioning magic and mayhem within the everyday. This, and long walks in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania spawned a love of writing.
Penning stories boasting laughter, light suspense and something magical in the hope of sharing her love of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary world. Connect with Maureen L Bonatch:

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18 Responses to "The Devil is in the Details"

  1. Comment by Sophia Kimble
    February 19, 2015 4:34 am

    Great article! Loved Yukon, and you’ve given some great advice.

  2. Comment by Hebby Roman
    February 19, 2015 11:20 am

    I really liked your tips. I particularly would like to try out the exercise you mentioned, describe people you know (without names) and see if someone else can pick up who you’re subscribing. Actually, I was thinking this would be a great exercise for a local chapter meeting of a writers’ group I belong to.
    Thanks for the great blog.

  3. Comment by susan coryell
    February 19, 2015 2:02 pm

    Sage advice! I like to use simple visual details to describe characters, such as freckles hop-scotching across the nose or nutmeg-brown eyes. Good blog!

  4. Comment by M.J. Schiller, Romance Author
    February 19, 2015 3:19 pm

    Nice post! I agree the devil is in the details and we should be choosy about what details. Too many overwhelm the reader, as you pointed out, and the reader is going to fill in a lot with their imagination, no matter what you write. It would be interesting to find a handful of readers that can draw and have them sketch and compare their versions of the hero. It is great how our mind fills in details. Like when you talk to someone on the phone and then meet them in person and they don’t match up to your “vision” of them! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Comment by Maureen Bonatch
    February 19, 2015 6:44 pm

    Oh Susan I love hop-scotching. I’d not thought of that before but it gives a nice visual. Thank you for stopping by.

  6. Comment by Maureen Bonatch
    February 19, 2015 7:03 pm

    M.J. that would be an interesting exercise (having the reader draw the hero). I know I like to envision the characters myself and prefer a cover without a full picture of them for that reason. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Comment by Maureen Bonatch
    February 19, 2015 7:05 pm

    Hebby, I’m so glad you liked it! It’s a fun exercise. Thanks for visiting.

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