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.
Here’s a bad description:
He was nervous and scared and sad all at once.
Here’s a telling-detail description:
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.
Here’s a bad description:
They walked into an almost empty bar.
We don’t really see the bar, do we?
Here’s something a bit better:
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.
Writing Tip of the Pod
When you’re revising think, “Can I make this shorter? Tighter? Quirkier? More authentic?”
Dog Tip for Life
Notice the eyebrows. The difference. The details. And use them in your stories.
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