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Describing Minor Characters

Recently, I’ve been exposed to a number of different writing styles through the context of analyzing them.  This is entirely different from just reading various stories, because I actually have to stop and look at how someone created their world and characters.  This has given me the opportunity to examine different writing styles and compare them to my own, which has led me to a few startling realizations.

First of all, I’ve realized there are different ways of handling minor characters.  For example, one of the pieces I was reading seemed to lack a lot of character details, but the writer explained that these particular characters didn’t matter.  They were minor characters who would only make minor appearances in the book.  However, I found myself craving more.  This led me to think about some of my favorite books, and I realized I wasn’t sure how these writers handled developing their characters.  Therefore, it was possible I was only noticing these “lack of details” because I was reading this particular piece as an editor and not as a reader.

Then, I got feedback on my own writing.  One thing I was surprised to hear was that I was giving TOO many details about my minor characters.  I was perplexed.  I always thought details were a good thing.  At the same time, I understood that readers are capable of filling in their own details, so they don’t need the writer to spoon-feed them every detail.  And, giving too many details about characters, who aren’t terribly important to your story line, may annoy or confuse your readers.

These are just two separate ways of looking at how thoroughly minor characters should be described, but I’m still on the fence about how I feel.  Part of me thinks this is just author voice, some authors will describe more and some will describe less, but another part of me thinks that perhaps I’m still learning to find the happy medium in my own writing.

What are your thoughts?  How do you know when you aren’t giving enough details?  How do you know when you’re giving too many?

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. I know that I lean heavily toward not describing enough. And this is true of not only characters, minor or major, but of setting and everything in between. I find that I want to get the story out, put the pieces in absolutely necessary and then, when I want my writing to be a bit flowery to put in the pieces of description that suit. Works for me…I think.

    Reply
  2. I agree that less is more. Give the reader the opportunity to visualize the scene and the characters for themselves. My opinion.

    Reply

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