30 May 2018

Writing Tip & Task 2/7: Using detail to reveal character

by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

Day 2: The second writing tip and writing task in our 7-day challenge comes from tutor Simon Wroe – and it’s all about how you can use little details to show character. Here’s the tip we’ve tweeted:

Consider how people reveal themselves through the everyday – their props and routines. We don’t need a character playing a grand piano or lapsing in gilded reveries: the use of well-chosen commonplace objects can really bring a character to life.

And the task he set:

Choose an object from your work bag or handbag & describe it in such a way as to show us something of your character – eg how you use it, what it means to you. Don’t use phone or keys – avoid the boring stuff 

Although we put this together as a writing task to be tweeted, you’ll get lots more out from this exercise if you do it later at greater length, just for yourself.

Think about the picture painted by a character’s environment: their bedroom, their car, the food they eat, their exercise regime … Instead of telling us flatly that your character is obsessively organised and tidy, give us a tour of his carefully alphabetised bookshelves. Show us how, in the kitchen, the mugs are all arranged with their handles pointing the same way. When the character comes into the room, have him stop to adjust the painting that’s already straight.

Look closely at how people do the same basic thing very differently, and what it says about them: Two girls are given satsumas: one of them just breaks it into three chunks and crams them quickly into her mouth, barely getting the peel off. Her friend removes the peel carefully in one long strip, then teases at all the tiny bits of pith, dropping them into a spindly white pile before eating the segments one by one, saving the largest until last.

Writers should be keen observers – use detail and specificity to give real texture to your writing and bring your characters fully to life.

Simon Wroe is the tutor of our next six-month (selective) novel-writing course in London – take a look at it here, or browse our full set of creative writing courses here.


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