1. Sam Webb

    Sam Webb Member

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    Can to much be to much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sam Webb, Mar 2, 2017.

    Hello everyone, I have a question. Can you over do it when it come to character development or background? What is enough? What is not enough? Its a tough break to figure out when is to much to much.
     
  2. Olivia Mc.

    Olivia Mc. New Member

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    Develop to your heart's content, just don't give it all away at once. Let your audience learn bits and pieces of the background as they read. Keep them interested.
    Also, I am not published, but I have developed all the way to the grandparents' toenails, who aren't even featured in the story. Okay, I'm exaggerating. Anyway, I have so much background that I doubt I'll be able to fit it all into my book, so I'm not going to cram it in if it isn't vital information and screws with the flow. I guess it will just be my little secret. Haha
     
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  3. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    That is what beta readers are for. to let you know
    if a particular part has too much (aka: info-dumping).
    That is what fresh eyes and perspective will do for you,
    so that is what I would recommend.

    Good luck and all the best. :)
     
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  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I read this as "info dumpling."

    My brain is in a tizzy trying to assign meaning to the phrase.
     
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  5. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak either that or you have a craving for dumplings. :p
     
  6. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    You can totally over do it. The line is when you are throwing stuff in there that has no effect on the character or plot. That's when it's just dead words that do nothing. It's fine if you know all these extra things about your characters, that they like boxers and their childhood music teacher was Mr Rodriguez, just don't tell the audience that stuff because it doesn't effect anything. You can flesh out a character, but when you tell us stuff make sure that stuff informs something that matters. If the character is a virtuoso jazz saxophonist then his first music teacher could totally be something that you want to tell us about. Less so if playing an instrument makes no difference to who they are today.

    This is part of a larger discussion about minimalism in writing; sticking to the things that are impactful. Different writers have different thresholds for where that line is, but I think most people would agree with the principle that 'too much' in anything (including description and characterization) is when the things described just don't matter.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Mostly, except I also adhere to what I might call the "paint color" principle. The walls ARE some color. The plate at the lunch meeting does contain some food. The shoe that just came unlaced and is about to trip the character is of some specific type. So I think that it's not only OK, but good, to get specific about those things. The walls are sage green, the plate contains a tuna melt, the shoes are white Keds. I think that generic things distract more than specific things.

    Now, it's nice if the detail then pays back by adding more meaning, but even if it doesn't, I vote for having detail. The point where I pause to consider whether detail is going too far would be, for example, when I'm deciding whether those white Keds have grass stains on them.
     
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  8. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    But where do you stop? I mean, the character did have a third-grade violin teacher, and does have a tuft of hair in the back that just wouldn't flatten out this morning, and the floor is beige linoleum and there are posters on the wall and the light switch is the same beige as the floor linoleum, etc., etc.... but what does any of this detail have to do with the story being told?

    I would go more the reverse of your approach, and pick a few distinctive details that will give the impression of the image I want the reader to have. If one of the main ideas of the book is that the character is trying to break away from everyday same-ness, then maybe all the beige in the room is an important symbol of what's being escaped from, so I'd include it. Otherwise, though? Why would I?

    I think there should be some purpose to everything included in a story, and just the fact that the walls ARE painted isn't enough of a reason, for me.
     
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  9. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I think the exact opposite. :D I do sometimes give specific information to enrich the scene, especially because I don't go in for much setting description, but I think specifics can often stick out like sore thumbs. Especially brand names.

    For example, I have no idea what Keds are, so that's going to distract me in a way that talking about the character's 'shoes' wouldn't.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
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  10. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I'm not against describing the paint on the walls, there's reasons why that would matter. A clean, white corridor gives a certain feeling to the surroundings; a psychedelic swirls a somewhat different one. These things can tell us things that matter, build up a sense of surroundings in a subtle ways, the key is to know when they are doing something useful. Lots of things are worth mentioning, things like clothes I think matter, at least casual clothes, because they inform the characters sense of style and fleshes out the image of them and that's nice to have, but again you can go over the top. I'm happy to describe my character's choice of t-shirt and the hoodie she borrowed and never gave back because they tell us something slight but useful, while her choice of socks and underwear probably doesn't.

    I am very minimal in what I describe, and some of that's style, because I write these washed out, faded, depressing stories. But even if I wasn't; most cars are just 'car', the sofa is just 'sofa'. These things do have colours and unique details to them but they don't need to be stated to know they are there. And that's the same in character work. We presume that they do have the normal trappings of a person in their position. The ones we mention are the ones that really effect who they are.

    Things don't have to be huge to get described but they do need to be described with purpose.
     
  11. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

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    Character background really only needs to come out when it moves the plot on, for me. Your readers will want to know the basics about your character, but the details have to come up in conversations with other characters, usually. Think about what information your character is revealing, and think about if you would be giving out the same level of information in an organic conversation in real life.

    It's best if it comes out in small amounts spread across the whole story. That way, it doesn't come across as an info dump, feels organic, and isn't too much information for the reader to take in in one go.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I was unclear. This is what happens when I type out an idea without, well, re-reading my own post. :)

    To clarify, I'm talking about adding details about things that are relevant to the plot. So I wouldn't bring up the violin teacher out of the blue, but if the character sees someone across the room and says, "Hey. That's not the French ambassador. I know that guy!" then the continuation would be "He was my violin teacher!" rather than "He was my teacher!"

    I suppose the paint color was a bad example, because it does sound like I'm just talking about the walls for no reason. But I mean if the walls are somehow relevant, as in, say, a faded spot where a picture was clearly removed, when the characters are looking for a picture.

    Or in your example of everyday same-ness, you said "beige" instead of, say, "bland". That's the kind of detail I mean--beige, or realtor-white, or whatever, instead of (or in addition to) "bland" or "characterless".
     
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  13. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    I mentioned this before, but this book notes about pets only being discussed at length of they're important to the plot, otherwise write about as much as you would the furniture. This is coming to mind here.

    To use my work as an example, I don't mention the colour of the 'uncomfortable plastic chair' that the male lead is forced to sit on, but many of us, having been in school, would have an image that comes to mind with that description.

    To use a character example, my female lead was verbally and spiritually abused, which is why she goes out of her way to be helpful but won't take help for herself. At one point the male lead describes looking into her eyes 'and seeing no fire' referring to spirit or strong emotion. But when she calls her mother and gets a slew of verbal abuse, the reasons make sense.
     
  14. Sam Webb

    Sam Webb Member

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    Thanks! This makes perfect sense. If it doesn't pertain to the story, then why add extra? Give good detail about the character, but not over the top or to little. PLus make sure you let the reader use there minds eye to picture who they think the character looks like. I am so grateful for everyone's help! This is amazing!
     

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