’m on the train, my nonplussed reflection reflects back at me against a leaden sky. I’ve got my leg (the cuff still soaked from recent bus-train dash) tossed over my folded Brompton bike. As the backwall landscape rolls by, I’m paying special attention to the weedy gravel-bordered rain puddles.
Successful writing means you (the author) pays attention to the little details of life. You can describe a guy going out to his car for his morning commute, but if he picks his keys out of a tray (showing he’s got a living routine he follows) you flesh him out a little more. Sherlock Holmes’s whole gimmick was this, noticing the obvious details that make up lives. In Star Trek, the characters were fleshed out by nationality and accents, giving them a much more vibrant feel than a bunch of faceless white bread NASA-heroes. Details round out our characters. They make them stand out, and they give them depth.
Just giving them a repeating idiosyncrasy will do it, a turn of phrase, a cadence of speaking, a nervous twitch. These are the things readers enjoy discovering, the story within the story, the details that make life what it is.
And why was that author riding on a train through gloomy skies with his bike and wet pants, looking so intently at rain puddles?
I’m seeing if the rain is letting up for when I get out two stops down the line. I still have a ride ahead of me and looking at the puddles is the easiest way of telling if it’s still raining or not.
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p.s. and yes, the rain slacked off by the time I stepped off at my station.