We got over the angst of figuring out when the story was overly explicative or hopelessly futile. Where exactly is the line between extraneous details and effective character development?
Detailed settings can lend themselves to character development. In one of the examples, Ming vases were placed into a story where they stuck out like a sore thumb. Commentary was not even offered as to whether they matched the drapes. The author just inserted them because in the FAB world it would be nice to be able to decorate with centuries old porcelain.
Not only would it be nice, it can say something about your characters. El (Running from Hell with El) brought up some good examples of how a detail like a Ming Vase can add depth to a character and help readers associate. Bo (I’ve Been Thinkin’) added we should leave something to the reader’s imagination.
It is not necessary for you to get out a brick bat on your readers. They are perfectly capable of deducing where your story is going, who your characters really are and why events unfold in a particular manner.
Using props to enhance understanding of your characters and situations is a simple solution.
She ranted and threw things for nearly half an hour. Suddenly, she stopped to smooth her skirt and hair. With a deep breath, she checked the clock. She had to be at the diner in eight minutes. Perhaps, this time she would get through to him.
After he left, she opened her grandmother’s silver compact. “He will never learn, and I have no interest in becoming a teacher,” she whispered to her doubting reflection. She snapped it shut before sliding it into the enormous handbag at her feet. The contents held enough information to convince him ignoring her was dangerous to not only his business but also his health.”
Here, the reflection lets us know she is being coy. She really is going to use her arsenal to teach him the lesson. Her handbag tells us a bit about her obsession to convince him. Rather than coming right out and calling her a stalker, the setting tattles on her.
An easy way for your setting to tattle is to personify it. Unless your story is fantasy, dialog would not be the best way to accomplish this. Instead, try giving the walls ears… or eyes.
The portrait of Marco’s grandfather placidly observed him cleaning blood from the slat floor. Had Joseph not been dead these last two decades, the prosecutor would certainly have called him as a witness in this and the other three cases.”
In two sentences, you have just revealed Marco as a serial killer, his grandfather as an upstanding man in contrast to his grandson and the prosecutor as a frustrated public servant with insufficient evidence to administer his duties.
Photographs of people and cameras in your setting are ways to give your reader another vantage on the scene.
Objects in the room can enhance mood or belie characters involvement in a scene without smashing your audience over the head.
Clarice stared at the painting above the divan while he droned on about what the lab results meant. He had asked her for an answer for the third time before she came back from her walk in the forest detailed on the canvas. She still did not understand his question, but wished he would bury her there when the time came.”
Clarice has found peace with her impending death despite his analytic questioning of her to see if she understands her predicament.
He smashed the vase on the Queen Anne coffee table scattering glass and orchids across the art deco, faux-Oriental rug. Charles stalked into the study and unceremoniously dumped the telephone directory on the desk. In less than fifteen minutes he had hired a contractor to paint and remove all the wretched flowery wallpaper in the entire house. If she was leaving, he wanted no trace of her left in his house.”
Charles takes back control of his environment and his life in the matter of one telephone call. Your reader learns he allowed her to make herself at home even if he did not like the decor she chose.
Innuendo is a powerful tool in creating fiction. It allows authors to give deeper understanding to readers without using a narrator to chew the story up and spit it out.
Engage your reader’s imagination. It allows them to see people in their lives as the characters or move the characters into their own lives. They will better identify with your story line.
What other observations can be made in the excerpts? How are these techniques used to create more vivid comics, short stories and flash? Would you rather read stories which leave something to your imagination?
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