Writing Secrets: How to make your writing vibrate with life

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

One of the reasons Dickens was such a great writer is that every character we encounter on his pages is vivid.

He gives us just enough about each, no matter how incidental they may be to the story, that we can visualise them. Mrs Micawber, for example, is trailed by children and never without a twin attached to a breast. She lives by the maxim, “I will never desert Mr. Micawber!”

We always advise writers to give us a couple of distinguishing details that allow us to picture a character and, as Dickens shows, these need not be visual.

We don’t need a “police report” description. Give us just those which bring them vividly to life, even if those happen to be the contents of their supermarket trolley.

I came across these two great descriptions recently, in an Adrian McKinty novel and I just had to share them. Describing a young drug dealer, he wrote:

I looked at him, look at his 22-ear-old, going on 50 face, with his short hair and his pink skin and his beady black eyes. He was like a lab rat going through terrible experiments to see exactly when he’d have a mental breakdown.

And here’s another, of a murder suspect:

I couldn’t help but like Harry as soon as I saw him because he was a rotund man in a cardigan with thinning black hair and a jovial shine to his cheek. He had very dark eyes and little brown caterpillar eyebrows. He was about my height and we would have made a good Laurel and Hardy together if we’d put on ‘30s garb and he’d grown a bristle moustache.

Aren’t those just wonderful? It’s important, if we’re to experience each moment with the protagonist, that we can visualise each character he or she encounters. It makes your writing vibrate with life.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: The apostrophe catastrophe

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  • Fadima Mooneira

    Good tips! Character development is one of my favourite part in writing.

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