Friday, March 23, 2012

Does Your Character Wear Purple Converses?

I don't think I've ever had a character who wore purple Converses, but I've had one who owned a mustard leather purse. One who referenced specific paintings whenever she entered a new setting and wanted a way to express how she felt. Another who would only use a purple pen when note-taking for her job.

Characters come alive with specifics. So maybe if your character doesn't wear purple Converses, she should. Or, at least something specific and fun for her.

There are many ways you can use specifics in description to give your readers a simple, but quick look into who your character really is. And even better, it will help your readers relate to your characters.

So what ways can you use specific descriptions in your story?

Appearance/Style

A great way to say lot about your character with a few words is how he/she looks - in an original way, of course. Your MC is a fashionista, and you show it through Jimmy Choo's or Valentino originals. Your MC is low-key, and all about comfort. He wears shorts in the winter, no gel in his shaggy hair, and drives a beat-up Chevy pick-up the color of a strawberry.

Setting

This encompasses everything from how a character decorates her house to how she views other homes or settings. Is she organized or messy? Does he step outside and notice the trees and clouds shaped like mythological creatures?

Quirks/Habits

Dropping hints here and there, like your MC kicking off her shoes at the door to indicate she's not overly concerned with organization, is a great insight to her personality and doesn't take up many words. Does your MC bite the tip of a pen when she's thinking, or always twirl her hair around her finger when she's nervous?

Drawing detail from what's around a character will spice up your writing and give more insight into your character.

You can use specifics with word choice or bigger things like how they treat their job or their relationships with family and friends. Sometimes it's just for the sake of the reader getting a more vivid picture in their mind, like specifying the color of a rose, and others, it's to help the reader get to know your character.

Do you write specifics in your story and do you enjoy reading them? What kind of specific descriptions do you like to use?


***photo courtesy of kirstinmckee

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Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog, www.cindyrwilson.blogspot.com

17 comments:

Sherrinda said...

Let me guess...your favorite color is PURPLE!!! :)

Details are not my forte, but I know I need to work on that and really make the story personal and vivid.

Great post, Cindy!

Joanne Sher said...

Specifics are SO important, I think. That doesn't mean I use them - but I know I should LOL. Great post!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Mustard leather purse--love it! Yes, I like to give my readers a real feel for my characters. I'll try anything and I'm ruthless with cutting out cliches in my work.

Great tips, Cindy!

~ Wendy

Jeanne T said...

I like specifics about characters; it helps me to picture and get an idea of who they are. :) I have a secondary character who loves to wear big earrings. :)

I appreciate your thoughts on bringing characters more to life for readers. ;)

And, yes, I do like to know specifics about the characters I read.

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

Great post, Cindy! I love both reading and writing specifics. They really have a way of making characters come alive.

I keep thinking of the hero in Karen Witemeyer's A Tailor-Made Bride. He had a habit of chewing on a toothpick. You don't see that trait much in fiction, I thought it was perfect!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, lol! No, my favorite color isn't purple. But I was shopping with my kiddos last week and saw some purple Converses and thought they were cute! Although I don't know what I'd ever wear them with :)

Joanne, I know! I'm so bad about using them, too. That's why I think it's a good thing to try to incorporate some on each page - or at least to add them in during our edits.

Wendy, you do great with keeping those cliches far from your writing! I love deep characters that are unique and you do a super job with that :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jeanne, I like the big earrings. It's something so simple, but it definitely gives us readers a better idea of who your character is!

Hi Heidi, thanks for the example. I haven't read that one, but you're right, that trait sounds perfect. Again, something so simple and small but it really does leave an impression on the reader.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I'm getting better at specifics. I tend to be a big picture kind of person, and that's where I start as I write a first draft. I have a lot of characters running around without any clothes on (so to speak.) I don't worry about what they're wearing -- but it can't stay that way. The clothes make the man, as they say, and they definitely make the woman. And so do quirks.
One of my favorite examples is Siri Mitchell's heroine in The Cubicle Next Door: Jackie likes to wear Converse hi-tops -- and she even has a pair with flames on the side!

Lindsay Harrel said...

I definitely need to keep my eye on improving in this area, but since I'm conscious of it, that's half the battle gone. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I love it, Beth! Flames on Converses :) I like your way of approaching the details. A lot of times it's easier to add those in later on. To develop the internal of the character and all the conflict and then add in those descriptive specifics later.

Lindsay, you're right! We certainly can't put every single thing we've learned in that first draft. It's the adding in later that shows we've been paying attention.

Casey said...

I love the idea of details, something I've not really delved into a lot, for fear of being too overt with my ideas. Thanks for the post, Cindy. Great ways to tackle the details. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Beautiful post, Cindy! Details are so important and so easy to miss! I loved the examples you used... they were a great way to show what a difference the little details make! :)

Ashley

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, I know what you mean. Sometimes there's that definite fear of being to overt, or even putting in something that won't resonate with readers. I guess it's a good thing we have beta readers and critters :), that way the can let us know when we're doing too much.

Hi Ashley, sometimes little things go a long way, right? When you get down to it, it's crazy all the small ways we can work to improve our manuscript. No wonder we have to edit so much!

Melissa Tagg said...

This is so great, Cindy.

Something that has really helped me include specifics was something I learned from Susan May Warren and MBT...Susie has this FOCUS acronym she goes through to help with storyworld and scene setting and CU stands for Close-Up. So in every scene I try to come up with some close-up - either what the character is wearing, an object in the room (which is usually somehow symbolic), a close-up of a quirk...just those little specifics that not only connect us with the character but with the storyworld, too.

I loved your examples!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great post, Cindy! And I think this is what can really freshen up our writing. Rather than turning to the same phrases and descriptions story after story, we can capture things through new eyes each time.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Melissa, that's great! That's a perfect way to help us focus on one thing at a time but help us make an impact on each page in one way or another. Thanks for sharing!

Good point Sarah! It's so important to be fresh and if we help do it through description and specifics like this, I really think it will resonate with readers.

Mary Vee said...

Cindy this was absolutely peachy keen. I so loved this post. Details are often discussed but this was way better.
Thanks