The Magic of The Eyebrow and Telling Details
What is this thing? This telling detail?
It’s a phrase or an image or a word that illustrates something about a character. It’s pretty exact. It’s a magical moment of showing rather than telling.
It’s usually pretty short.
And it’s the opposite of a telling description.
He was nervous and scared and sad all at once.
He soothed himself, rubbing the tips of his own ears over and over.
Telling details make the characters and settings feel real. If we say, “Shaun lifted his eyebrows?” Well, that’s a cliché, but also it’s not quite enough to be a telling detail no matter how much people communicate with their eyebrows.
They walked into an almost empty bar.
We don’t really see the bar, do we?
The bar smelled of beer and lilac bushes somehow. The Sonos speaker tottering on the edge of the reclaimed wood bar blared “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. A man leaning between ferns used a pencil to smash a hole into the bottom of a Bud Lite can and chugged it all down. He crushed the empty can between his hands and belched out the alphabet to cheers.
“Wow. This place is weird,” I said and grabbed the door handle, ready to bolt.
It's all about detail and detail choice. Your reader and you don't have the exact same image of what the inside of a bar is going to look like. It's your job to show them your character's world. You do that with a few telling details. This goes about setting, but it's also true about people.
If I wrote,
Santa had straight eyebrows, far apart on his face, thin, red and with scars running through the center. They crept towards his receding hairline.
You'll have a different image than,
Santa's eyebrows raised.
When you’re revising think, “Can I make this shorter? Tighter? Quirkier? More authentic?”
Notice the eyebrows. The difference. The details. And use them in your stories.
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When Carrie first started writing, she wrote contemporary teen fiction and she heard a lot of comments about being quirky. She'd hear comments like "Could that really happen?" And a lot of times, she'd answer, "Um. It already has." One time, I had a story with a wedding expo that featured cannabis. Everyone said, "You need to cut that. That would never happen." Last week in Canada? It did. It was called the Canadian Canabis Wedding Expo. In this world, things you don't expect to happen tend to happen. And in your stories, it's good to do that, too. Don't be afraid to be bizarre. Don't be afraid to have your character be the clerk in Petco who is there when a Watusi walks in. On a leash of course. When you're afraid to be weird, bizarre, or even just afraid to be yourself your writing suffers and becomes bland and boring. Take chances. Stand out. Be different. Writing Tip of the Pod Take chances. Stand your ground. Write weird. Life is weird. It's okay to reflect that because when you do? You and your story stand out. Dog Tip for Life Weird is not an insult. Weird means you're not boring, that you're unexpected. Weird is good. Also, weird can make you go viral. :) SHOUT OUT! The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made ...
Hey! Welcome to a bonus interview episode of Dogs are Smarter Than People, the usually quirky podcast that gives writing tips and life tips. I’m Carrie Jones and with me today is author and Mainer Ronni Arno. Ronni! Ronni is a MG and YA novelist who thinks cool and her deubt novel RUBY REINVENTED. She likes to kayak, has adorable rescue dogs, and was actually born in Brooklyn, but has somehow become an absolute New Englander. A morning person who likes fuzzy socks, help us welcome her to Dogs are Smarter Than People. In this podcast, Ronni talks about a ton of helpful things including imposter syndrome and what it's like to write a book with six other people. Check out the interview, like and subscribe, but also check out Ronni's books and super cool website and spread the love! A couple of Ronni's books! WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE. The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe. Join the 244,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much ...
Editor Cheryl Klein talked about reading writer Dave Eggers’ interview in Harper Magazine. She talked about it during a time in her life where she felt like she was in a fog and had no direction. It was right after college. For those of us in the kid book world, it’s super hard to imagine someone as amazing as Cheryl lacking focus and direction. She graciously sent me her commencement speech where she details this and it was – It was eye opening. And comforting. In the article Klein referenced, Eggers basically said he just said yes to possibilities and opportunities. According to Klein, he said, “There is only saying yes to opportunities whenever they come—Trying whatever makes your world larger, your experience greater, your life better— Sometimes just for the pleasure of trying new things, of saying yes.” This is something Carrie tells kids at almost every single school visit that she does. She talks about improv and tells them to just say yes to ideas and adventures. She is always asked for advice on how to be a writer and she always says, “Gulp up experiences. Live the biggest life you can live.” The center of attention in your life? What is it? What is it that you want to do? To be? It’s easy to feel superfluous, but you are not superfluous and when you understand your life’s work? That helps. A lot of people tell you to find and/or refine your purpose by making a sentence: YOUR NAME + WHAT YOU DO + WHO YOU DO IT FOR +WHY YOU DO IT So, Carrie’s would be: I’m Carrie Jones and I write stories about ...