A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Little Things

Today is a moment for celebration.  Not for me, but for my oldest son.  After a few years of torture, he is getting his braces off this morning.  The poor boy has had to go without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  As I said, torture.

It's funny that though he is definitely enjoying this moment, so am I.  This is one of those little moments in my family's life that I'll remember.  And these are the moments that make me smile big time.  With all the rest of the things on my shoulders, these little moments are what make it all worthwhile.

So what will this moment  mean for him?  Well, I imagine he will feel a bit more confident because he doesn't have the metal train tracks running over his teeth.  And when he looks in the mirror, he'll get to see just how his now perfectly straight teeth enhances things.  He's already a good looking boy, but hopefully he'll see a little more of it (since so many of us hate how we look as teenagers).  All-in-all, this is going to be really good for him.

To bring this discussion around to writing, it occurred to me this morning that little moments like this are what make my family real and recognizable.  As I relate this story to everyone, enough of you out there can relate to it and maybe chuckle a bit.  This is a perfect opportunity to realize that our characters need little things like this to make them more realistic as well.

Obviously we don't want to derail the main storyline or go off on a tangent, but I do believe we can use little things to help round out the characterization and make our characters more real.  For example, if our main character smiles as he watches his own children accomplishing something, it shows a warmth of heart.  It may include a very small scene (and hopefully it doesn't derail the action), but it can give a deeper glimpse into the lives of our characters.

I'm blanking on some better examples, so I'm going to toss the question out to all of you.  What little things can you think of that enhance your character without detracting from the story?  Am I off here or is this a valid thing to think about as we write?

13 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

You make a great point here Eric and I think these little things can help characterization. The hard part is finding the appropriate moment to paraphrase an experience so that it doesn't become a big bit of backstory all on its own.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good news for your son! Braces suck.
In my book, when Byron views his first spacestation, a little innocent excitement finally breaks through his otherwise cocky and controlled demeanor.

Eric said...

Matthew - Glad to hear I'm thinking along the right lines. And you're right, as long as it's not backstory.

Alex - That's a good example. Just what I was looking for, so thanks.

VICTORIA SAAVEDRA said...

Happy for your son. I had braces and hated every minute of it! Experiences can definitely help show the reader who this character is and what he/she has been through. I agree with Matthew Rush, though it isn't difficult at times to not fall into the experience becoming a back story.

VICTORIA SAAVEDRA said...

I meant is difficult* : )

Kat Harris said...

I like using expressions and body movement to give insight into a character's psyche without having to go into back story.

When a person taps his fingers or bounces his knees in a conversation, it can convey anxiety. When writers pare stuff like that with little breadcrumbs of back story, it makes everything pop.

Eric said...

Victoria - Thank you. You are so right, that it's difficult to keep from writing backstory. I struggle with this all the time, knowing just when it's too much.

Kat - That's a good idea, the mannerisms. You are so right though, about making a story pop.

DEZMOND said...

little details are what makes books convincing and realistic and appealing to readers. Not just the details in characters, but also in settings and similar. It all helps the readers to imagine the heroes and the stories more easily and thus to get involved with the book more profoundly.

Eric said...

Dezmond - You got that right. Great comment.

cassandrajade said...

I think you are making an excellent point here. It is the small details that make the character seem real and can really help the reader connect with them. Something as simple as getting braces or having them removed, having a bad hair cut, winning a simple game - all of these things can really help humanise the character. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Eric said...

Cassandra - Thanks. You give some really good examples as well.

Michelle H. said...

Ugh! Braces. I had to deal with them. Good that your son doesn't have to deal with them anymore.

Characterizations really make the story pop. A great point made. So many people don't consider how stale and flat a character can be if not given something more to who they are - even if it's something simple.

Eric said...

Michelle - I actually wish I had followed my orthodontist's directions better. I had braces, but I stupidly refused to wear my bottom retainer after a while (and my parents didn't make me). My bottom teeth are all screwed up as a result.

You're right about the effect characterizations have though. Nice comment.