Detail Resonates with Readers
Updated: May 10, 2021
How can a writer include the senses when creating fictional characters? With concrete, specific detail that moves beyond describing a character outwardly and actually attempting, temporarily, to be the character.
As I wrote my young adult novel, There Will Be Stars, I often stepped away from the computer and delved into the characters; first emotionally and then physically. In one scene Matthew, an eight-year-old boy who has recently lost his mother to suicide, questions his father at the kitchen table about his mother’s burial. Using my acting skills, I went inside Matthew’s mind, and attempted to see through his eyes. Emotionally, I connected with Matthew’s turbulence, his anger, and his need for reassurance from his single remaining parent. This was how I discovered that Matthew’s feet fidget beneath the table, that one small hand clenches the other, and that tears are just below the surface, ready to spill out.
It is detail that resonates with readers; specific, sensory detail lifts words off the page and into the minds, muscles, skin and heart of the reader.
Early on in my attempt to write, I belonged to a writer’s group in Boulder, Colorado. The other writers in the group continually pointed out how my character’s physical actions expressed their inner emotional life. I wasn’t aware that I was showing instead of telling. My years of developing and performing plays with my theatre company, as well as teaching kids and adults our techniques enabling them to create their own plays, had unconsciously influenced me. My personal experience is evidence that an actor’s perspective is a valuable resource and a unique tool for writers of fiction.
How do writers show rather than tell? Specific actions such as crushing a plastic bottle with the heel of a shoe or hands gripping knees tightly enough to turn the knuckles white are ways to communicate a character’s inner feelings and thoughts. A fictional character drifting up the stairs shows the reader a distinctly different emotion than feet fidgeting beneath a table.
In what ways do your create detail in your writing?