1. BlackBird
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    BlackBird Member

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    Characters - Show detailed is too detailed and more questions

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by BlackBird, Dec 31, 2012.

    First off, I've never written before - well I've played with stories here and there in between off time as my career as a federal correction officer.

    However, I am wondering a couple of things.

    1) How much detail do you give to a character without making them seem too much. A sort of Mary-Sue situation.

    2) How attached to get to a character. Is getting too attached a bad thing? Can that cause too much focus on one character while skipping other main characters?

    3) Are characters more interesting from a third person omniscient idea or 1st person? I find writing third person easier.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, forget the term Mary Sue. It is so overused and misused that it has lost all useful meaning. (For the record, a Mary Sue is author self-insertion into the story to vicariously live out the author's fantasies - it has nothing to do with level of detail).

    Opinions vary on how much detail is too much. My preference is to provide a minimum of detail, just enough to stimulate the reader's imagination to fill in the rest. That doesn't mean my own visualization of the character is not vivid and detailed. It only means I don't try to force feed my vision to the reader. For example, there is a short story in my blog, titled Blue. There is a woman in the story, mysterious and alluring to the main character. The only details I provide is her straight black hair, blue eyes, and blue dress. I leave the rest to the reader, who will conjure up his or her own image of her, based on that reader's own aesthetics. It was a deliberate choice.

    Too much detail is the first detail that gets in the way of the story. Every detail slows down the pace, which isn't always a bad thing. But it must be appropriate to where it occurs in the story.
     
  3. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    I agree with Cogito's "Too much detail is the first detail that gets in the way of the story."
    Try avoiding too much detail in stories, inserting too much definitely will slow down the pace as Cogito said, but a lot of time you'll also bore and loose you're readers because of it.
    And you do want to be careful not to create a character that is too "perfect" (trying so hard not to label them as Mary Sue characters anymore). I do understand that it is very hard not to create these type of characters, especially when you do get attached to certain characters. I originally started writing by doing roleplays with other people, so of course I wanted to make my characters the best they could be, but I definited pushed the limits of being too perfect or god-modding (FYI: God-modding is just a form of having a powerful character be too perfect and powerful. Basically they can't be hurt by anything, they have no weaknesses, nothing can touch them, etc etc). Over time I learned though how to avoid these types of characters. If you're afraid you've created such a character, have friends or family read what you've written about the character so far and ask for their opinions about said character. If you don't feel comfortable with asking friends and family, you can try reading about the character outloud to yourself, sometimes it'll catch what sounds factitious about a character. Or, you can even post a little about the character(s) here on writing forums and other writers will give you their opinions and help you develop the character as best as they can.
    I do recommend being careful about favoring a character, everything author does it at one point or another. A lot of time, and this is said to be most common in newer writers, favoring a single character will shift all the attention to that character instead of the plot, which can be good and bad I guess. It mostly depends on the story and what you're trying to accomplish. I think the best piece of advice I got from my one friend was, "the world doesn't revolve around us, so it certainly won't revolve around our characters either if they were real people." It's something to remember.
     
  4. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    ditto to Cogito's post (would have given reputation but the forum software won't let me, it complains that I've got to spread some love around first!)

    Only put as much detail in as is required for story, character, atmosphere. Story comes first, even though that arguably should be generated by your characters' motives and consequently their actions. Atmosphere is a tricky one. It needs to be subservient to the other two but at the same time can be very useful in drawing the emotions out of your readers, so you need enough detail to achieve that but absolutely no more or else you'll be slowing down the story.
     
  5. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the above posts.

    A long time ago I read something, somewhere on the difference between watching a TV play and listening to a radio play - the author of the piece concluded that he/she preferred a radio play because it left more to the their imagination.

    Give some details, but leave something to the reader's imagination.
     
  6. Terry Turton
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    Terry Turton Member

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    I agree you can give a c. too much back story and overdose the reader with pointless back ground info. i would keep it simple just mention what's important to the story or your going to end up with a Stephen King situation where you have this massive back story/history that's totally pointless.Let the c. personality come through in small bite sized chunks don't force feed the reader with pointless tales about the c. scool life and some weird story about his/her parents or something.Simple can be mysterious and in my opinion mysterious is often better than tons of pointless babble.
     
  7. Salamander
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    1) Pretty much what Cogito said. Detail should be related to the scene. If you're talking about the color of her eyes, make sure it's because they're staring at one another, or because she is trying to rub something out of them.

    2) It's not wrong at all, just make sure you give your reader those same reasons to be attached, that's what makes a page-turner. If your attachment to your character means you're not willing to let them come to harm ever, then that's the wrong kind of attachment, it's called "plot armor". There are no hard and fast rules for how much of one or another character is enough. If you feel you can tell the story in a more focused way through one, or a broader one through multiple characters, go for it.

    3) I have always liked third person omniscient and disliked first person. You have to be careful with omniscient, though, I would really only advise it if you have multiple main characters together or a story that has vital details and requires a flexible perspective. It's easy to get confused between whose eyes we are looking out of at one particular moment, so I usually save it for crucial points in the story when the action is thick and I need to shift. The rest of the time I tend to stick to third person limited, although I break that rule occasionally. That's the beauty of writing: you can break some rules if the result is good.
     
  8. tcol4417
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    1) Keep it relevant and expose the reader to it gradually. A male character might be alcoholic and short with a face covered in stubble, but it's not worth mentioning that until you're exploring their lifestyle, chances in a fight and lack of self-maintenance. Eye colour is rarely important enough to mention, as is favourite music, dress code, how they take their steak and the number of times they chew before swallowing.
    I understand that there's a correlation between excessive character description and Mary Sues, but the main thing to remember about Mary (or Larry) is that EVERYTHING is about her/him.

    2) Being attached to a character isn't the same as obsessing over them. Some of the best written stories revolve entirely around a single character in some capacity or another, either to solidify the effects of events from their perspective or as a witty exploration into self-obsession. As long as you're consciously aware of the POSSIBILITY of neglecting the cast and narrative, then you're doing better than some.

    3) This is entirely dependent on your writing style. Also, it's possible to have a third person narrative with only first person awareness. Fight Club was written entirely from the perspective of one person
    even though he was two people
    while Discworld novels have little "asides" to explain cultural artefacts and trivial novelties.
     

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