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What about the paper clips?

If you are an author, developing your main characters can’t stop at writing about the dominant personality traits that we pick up on about people after first meeting them. After our first conversation with someone, we can usually pick up on some aspects of their temperament—do they have a sense of humor, do they seem uptight or more relaxed, do they take interest in other people or do they have an ego the size of a pregnant hippo?

Readers need to pick up on these cues about your characters pretty quickly in the book if you want them to relate to your personalities and keep reading. But the readers need to move past the acquaintance level with your characters in order to feel connected to the story and not only keep reading it, but also talk about it with other readers. So how do you as the writer make that happen?

One simple solution is to share what may seem like insignificant details about what’s going on with your character. For example, let’s look at what paper clips can reveal…yes, paper clips. On my desk, I have paper clips of assorted colors hooked together in a chain. I like to buy brightly colored paper clips to perk up my work area. I also like to play with the paper clips (hook them into chains, move them around) when I am trying to think through a writing dilemma. The clips are never neatly stored anywhere on my desk.

I have some friends who are much more serious about their desk space. They keep their paper clips neatly in a drawer organizer or in a magnetic holder on their desks. Some friends are so precise about where items go on their desks that they put the paper clips away immediately when removing them from a stack of papers. I remember watching a co-worker reading a note as she walked. I could tell the note must be upsetting or require a lot of concentration because she dropped two paper clips on a tile floor while walking without every even breaking her gaze from her paper. This was out of character for her, and the paper clips falling (and her leaving them) gave me a glimpse into something that would soon be revealed to me.

Why am I rambling about paper clips? Because small details give us a lot of insight at times. And when we have clues about an event or insight into a character, we feel more bonded to what’s going on. We want to know more. We can also relate (either because of our own similar personality trait or that of a friend or family member). If you as the writer help us deepen our relationships with your characters, we as readers are more likely to turn the next page (and tell our friends about your books). Just a small detail mentioned in one sentence can make the difference between good and excellent character development.

Read through a chapter or a short story you are working on and see if you can add a few details.

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