Sunshine and Inspiration


The view from my beach chair

The beach has always been a favorite retreat for my mom and me. We escape from the computers, the e-mails, the school-related work to bask in the sun with nothing but a good book, a handful of magazines, and a couple of beach chairs.

The things we talk about have always varied, but since she’s always been such an integral influence on my writing (first because she taught me to write and now because she’s an avid, honest reader), the topic often comes up. It’s usually while we’re cooling off in the surf that I talk about whatever I’m working on and, since we’re both English teachers, we often discuss technique, particularly with fiction.

This trip brought up an unusual observation when it comes to character development.

When developing a character, thinking about physical and character traits are obvious. Thinking about quirks, favorite sayings, and habits usually comes up for the protagonist and a supporting character or two, if not most of the other characters.

But then we realized that there’s an amusing part of character-building that sometimes ends up overlooked. (I know I’ve never seriously considered it.) It’s the minute details of how each person does something differently.

For instance, weird as it sounds, I put a sock or shoe on my right foot differently than I put it on my left. The left has to be straight up and down. Otherwise, it just feels awkward and the bow on a shoe ends up at a strange angle. But my right foot has to be perpendicular to the ground or I end up with the same problem.

Or, while we had our families over on Father’s Day, I noticed that my husband’s grandmother uses the spoon and string to wring out a teabag very differently than I do. Instead of wrapping around three times and then straining out the excess all at once, she loops the string around once in one spot, tightens, then once in another spot and tightens before taking it over to the trash can.

Obviously, these things aren’t particularly important to character development. After all, only an obsessive-compulsive character would truly care that much. But it’s just one more little way that can bring a character to life even more.


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