Veronique Darwin

Specificity-ish

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on April 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

A few years ago I was reading this book and I discovered somewhere in it that specificity is the key to writing. Getting closer and closer to the detail gets you closer and closer to the truth.

I try to use the principle of specificity as a guideline for my editing. I ask myself naggy questions, like”What is Gil doing as Jillian says that?” and make disparaging comments like “Not true.” I circle things like “that plant” and replace it with “cactus.”

Even better than those great fixes, I have come up with a system. This system must be good because sometimes I find inspiration in it and other times I loathe it.

The system is simply that I circle things in green, insert a piece of lined paper behind the typed page, rewrite a note on the lined page in the green pen begging specificity, type the green note out into a file called “Green Add-ons,” visit this file whenever I feel or especially don’t feel like it, and do a form of freewrite on that note. Then I print out the pages, old-school cut and paste them on to the original typed pages, then type everything out into something I call a new draft, or Draft_Four.

Simple and specific.

I have in this way been able to find details the only way I can find them: from the magic that comes with typing really quickly. Writing is the only way I can find ideas – well really, the only way I can write – so it’s useless for me to sit over a page or close my eyes and try to insert details. I can’t insert details, I need to write them.

With this system, I have changed the useless “the kitchen was crowded” to the more useless but longer “the kitchen was stuffy with everyone taking breaths in to say things,” and “the curly-haired one” to “the boring face, the bland voice, the diet powder.”

Hopefully there’s more meaning to Green Add-ons than I seem to explain. I think specificity is the key to getting to the nature of my characters, to their motivations and their anxieties and their likability. Why else did Mea wear a full length silk purple jumpsuit to her party? Why does Gil spin a basketball in his hands when he’s nervous? No reason really, but it’s better than Mea wore something and Gil was sitting there.

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  1. I like this!! Sounds like you have your system down great.
    I always try to think of characters I want to develop and get to know. How do you do it??

    • Thank you, Robyn!
      I love thinking up characters as well – I think that might be the part of writing I like the best. When creating characters, I like to think of the idea of character being the central part to a story. When I think of a good character, I ask myself what that character would be doing, what kind of situations they would get themselves into, then I let the story build around them. If I have a main character whose story is already going, then I think of how this new character would fit in relation to my main character. By putting characters into situations I find I learn a lot about them, more maybe than if I tried to do a full-on character sketch.
      What do you think? What have your experiences been with creating characters?

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