Story Rx: It’s all in the details…
So, I recently glanced through one of my manuscripts that I hadn’t seen in a while. Partway through, I noticed that I had a child character speaking differently from the others. I honestly couldn’t even remember why I had her speaking like that in the first place. A quick review from earlier in the script showed that she was missing her two front teeth, hence my desire to have her ‘speak’ like she would sound.
Here’s the problem: I had just been reading the tail end of the story, and there were no alterations to her speech. I had forgotten to continue having her lisp throughout the novel. ‘Not a big deal’, you might say – go back and change her speech throughout the story. But then I asked myself, ‘Was it was really needed?’
Here’s what I came up with:
Yes, details are certainly important in a novel, but knowing when to make them take center stage, is essential.
1. Know your limits. Did I really need to write out how a six-year old would sound if she were missing her two front teeth? Actually, probably not. She’s a minor character, not in every scene, so it’s likely the reader will have forgotten that back in chapter 1, there was a reference to her missing incisors. Not that giving a minor character a nice juicy physical flaw wouldn’t add to the overall arc of the story – it very well might. But as soon as I stated they were missing, then had her speak, the reader’s mind would likely automatically fill in that blank of how she would sound. And if they didn’t, would it harm my story to have them not hear her that way? No, it wouldn’t. Therefore, I can safely leave that small detail to the readers imagination. Not having to focus on this smaller detail of my novel frees me up to target other major details that do need my attention. Knowing which details to keep in your manuscript is key.
2. Be consistent. Another problem I had with the above mentioned detail was that I had actually forgotten I’d added it. I had no other instance of writing out how the child would sound, beyond the first chapter. I had not been consistent. This is will annoy your readers. Believe me, I’m one of them. I once read a book where a major character received a serious injury. It took days of recovery for the character to even be able to stand. Then, in the next chapter, that same character was suddenly in an intimate situation with another character. The entire chapter, all I could think was, “Wait. What happened to her injury? Isn’t she in massive amounts of pain right now?” I was so focused on the fact that in his/her haste to create a steamy love scene, the author appeared to have forgotten about her injury, that I could no longer enjoy the story. You will lose your readers if you’re not careful with those details you had deemed so very important in one chapter, but had forgotten about in the next. Don’t forget to be consistent – your readers won’t forget.
3. Do it well! If after thinking on which specific detail you would like to give to a character, you decide to move ahead, then do it with gusto! Not that you have to remind the reader of that creepy old man who lives in the apartment below and his pronounced limp, each time he enters the story. That would be overkill. But make his characteristic count! Have it affect the action of the story or at least make a difference for that character in some way. If I had chosen to keep the child’s lisp in my story, I could have gone on to add a scene where she’d been teased for her speech or another character misunderstood what she’d said and a series of mishaps then followed. This would have given a function to her flaw.
Another character within this same manuscript did have a specific speech pattern, which I decided to keep. Normally when we speak, we don’t pronounce the endings to words as they should be, correct? ‘Going to’ becomes ‘gonna’, and ‘want to’ ends up as ‘wanna’. We speak ‘Merican, after all 😉 So when reading a novel, more often than not, the author has written it the way it should be said, not necessarily the way we say it. However, for one specific character I chose to change those specific words (along with others!) when I had him dialoguing. I wanted his character to come across as lazy. I wanted his speech pattern to differ from others around him in just that subtle way. Another reason you might want to leave in a specific detail, even if it doesn’t affect the storyline, would be if that characteristic helps to define his/her personality.
What about you? In what ways do you feel details are important in your writing? What other points about writing details would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment below or message me directly!
Until next time, Happy reading, friends!