Story Stuff: Z Is For Zippers (And Other Minor Details)

Before we get started, I gotta do one thing.

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We did it! The A-Z challenge is complete! I hope you’ve found the information useful and entertaining. If you ever feel inclined to revisit, the links for all the posts will be on the A-Z post and also on the Writing Posts page.

Now, let’s get to today’s topic. Throughout the series, we’ve been talking mostly big-picture ideas, like conflict, characters, and point of view. Today, we’re taking a look at the minutiae of a story, those little details that make the world feel authentic, like when hot coffee burns a character’s mouth or how he notices the zipper on his jeans won’t stay up.

Z

I’ve written some on this idea before, in this post. I want to branch out a little for this one, though, beyond personality quirks that make a character real. Today I want to talk about everything else – let’s call them quirks of our story world, those little things that are maybe irritating or at least make one day different from the rest.

fabricAdding such details aren’t automatic for me. They’re usually things I add in a second draft and often at the prompting of my more setting-aware CPs. In draft two, instead of the characters only traveling in a van and talking about their big problem, now the van is an old clunker and when the driver tries to find a news station on the radio, all she can get is country music. She hasn’t driven a manual in ages and jerks the van when she shifts to third.

It’s those “worldly” details that plant the reader in the story. If the POV is tight, we’re already seeing things through the character’s eyes. Let her notice all the idiosyncrasies around her.

A great way to get ideas is to get out once in a while (I know that’s hard for us sometimes). Make a list of the “odd” things you see. Maybe there’s a hole in the carpet. Or the magazine in the waiting room is missing the cover. Or someone left crumbs all over the table at the coffee house. On one of my last visits to a favorite lunch place where I planned to work for a while, once every minute or two, something made a beeping sound from the kitchen. A few times isn’t noticeable. A few dozen starts to feel like torture. So I had to leave.

How have you used odd details in your writing? I’ve enjoyed seeing your writing excerpts on some of the other days, so since this is the last A-Z post, I thought we’d end that way. In the comments, post a snippet of your work (can be published or not) that show at least one “odd” detail, something that makes the character take notice.

Since I’ve been working on my WIP The Seventh Seed (which is the standalone sequel to The Fourth Descendant) during the month as well, my excerpt is from that. If you read TFD, one of the characters here may look familiar to you. Hehe.


Liz spotted the place Javier had told her about—Sam’s. They were supposed to meet a girl there in a few hours. The white exterior and neon signs in the window—one advertising milkshakes—gave it an old diner feel.

After parking the van, she headed to Sam’s. Couldn’t hurt to check it out. Plus, the milkshake sign made her want one.

A bell over the door jangled as she entered. The interior was bright, and folksy guitar music played over the speakers, contrasting with the old diner appearance. A young man eating a hamburger sat at a table, and a grungy guy stepped out from behind the counter, wiping his hands on a towel as he approached her. “Hi there. Welcome to Sam’s. Table for one?”

He looked about thirty and sported light brown dreadlocks. The parts of his shirt unobscured by the apron were stained, and he’d used two of the dreads to tie back the others. For some reason, she hadn’t expected an Iowan—or a restaurant worker—to look like him. “Oh, no. I’ll sit at the bar. I’m just getting a drink.”

“Fair enough.” He held his arm out to the stools as he reclaimed his place behind the counter. “Take your pick. What can I get you?”

“Vanilla milkshake.”

“Vanilla? We can do something more interesting than that. Mint chip, cookies and cream, we can even make it adult and throw some Kahlua in there if you want.” He winked.

She laughed. “Nah, vanilla’s fine. I don’t usually order milkshakes, but your sign is persuasive.”

“Well, that’s encouraging, because it was expensive.” He turned away from her and gathered ingredients from a fridge under the counter. “Where you from?”

4 thoughts on “Story Stuff: Z Is For Zippers (And Other Minor Details)

  1. I think some of the small details are worth writing down in a separate file under each character. For example, you need to remember if your character has amazing blue eyes so you don’t forget halfway through and say they’re green. That’s kind of obvious. Their name. Also obvious.

    But if the character’s nervous habit is to nibble at the corner of her index fingernail, and every time she’s nervous she might do that… Well, you need to have her do it in chapter 1 and chapter 15 and chapter 29, then.

    What happens is, it’s hard work to remember all those things about all your characters!

    Oh, you start out with all that energy – but then you start focusing on plot twists and all the things and suddenly you forget that she’s a nailbiter.

    Or that she has a habit of pushing her long brown locks out of her eyes.

    Now, those little details are pretty easily go back through your manuscript and drop in during the second draft. Every few chapters make sure you have her brush her hair out of her eyes. Especially if she does it when she’s talking to a certain other character that she’s interested in.

    But trust me, you may have to reread the first three or four chapters of your story to remember what the heck your characters’ little foibles are.

    And if you don’t write them down – and 99% of you won’t – your story is the worse for it. Easy trick that most of you won’t do, and your stories are juuuuust a little flatter for it. Add a few more things to it and all those little one percents add up…

    As much as I think my stories are ready to go the minute I’m done writing them, that’s why I send them to beta readers and critique partners. Because they’re not.

    Liked by 1 person

      • If they are not consistent, there at least needs to be a reason. Maybe somebody is really nervous in the beginning and then they grow in their confidence and they lose the quirk. That makes sense, too. But for the most part, if somebody brushes their hair out of their eyes, that trait isn’t going to change – and readers like when the character does it because they identify with it and they realize the character only does it at certain times, like when the character is kind of interested in another character. That, they love seeing be consistent right straight through to the end.

        Liked by 1 person

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