Friday, 6 February 2009


More from the (review of the) book How Not To Write a Novel.

While it is your job to know a great deal about your characters, itis seldom necessary to share it all with the read and by 'seldom' we mean 'never.'

I had an argument about this in a creative writing class. I was getting them to build up a character from a bunch of objects found in his/her pocket.

Start with sex and age. Then clothes, house, upbringing, family. Only then name. Job, favourite TV programme, dinner, what they have for breakfast.
Why do we need to say what they had for breakfast?
You don't need to say it. It will probably never come up in your story (the same way you rarely mention people going to the toilet or women having their periods or a heavy cold) but you should KNOW your character well enough to know if he/she is a Kellogs Special K type of a person or a single black coffee or tea and toast or porridge or a short stack with extra syrup.

But just because you know, don't man-handle it into your story if it's irrelevant.

1 comment:

Lori Tiron-Pandit said...

Hi. I'm new to your blog.

I was just thinking that this is where the writing advice gets contradictory. "No unnecessary words, descriptions, etc." but "Everything is in the details. Be specific." You know what I mean? Small details can be relevant and it is only the writer who can tell (and very critical and trained readers). Like, let's say the character only had an apple for breakfast because he is a health freak, or an anorexic. Some things might seem irrelevant while they are really just very subtle. Some details might just create the atmosphere, might pull the reader into the character's world.

I guess what I'm saying is that such writing choices are very subjective and there is no foolproof recipe.