Small Details Can Make the Character

character, writing, novel, books, how to

When you're in an art gallery and gazing at old portraits, it’s easy to forget that all of the faces staring back at you were once real people with thoughts, hopes, dreams, love and ambition. Pondering these people and the "what ifs" of their lives can often inspire stories. Viewing the paintings can also help you when it comes to expressing your character through small details.

National Portrait Gallery, Gallery, portrait
When I explored the British National Portrait Gallery the last time I was in London, the portrait that really caught my attention was Don Justino de Neve by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Neither the sitter nor the artist are famous enough to draw crowds, but the fat little dog with the red bow in the corner looking up adoringly at her master really rabbed me.

In a room full of the trappings of wealth, power and fame, this little dog helped remind me that Senor de Neve was once a real person. After all, only a real person with a genuine affection for his canine companion, or perhaps with a great sense of humor and the ability to poke fun at himself, would think to include a cute little dog in a red bow in such a formal portrait. Also, for a man dressed in dark clothes and with a serious expression, the red bow was a fun contrasting detail. It made me wonder if he was less stern than his image suggested.

By including a contrasting and unexpected element in your character's description or life, you can not only capture your reader's attention but reveal more about the character. Like the artist did with Senor de Neve, you can hint at a softer side, with something as simple as a little detail like a dog and a bow. 

The dog in the portrait not only suggests another aspect of Senor de Neve’s character, but it provides a connection to the gentleman. Looking around that one gallery, I couldn’t help but notice the number of companion dogs painted alongside their owners. I am very attached to my little dog, and to see so many people over the ages attached to theirs helped remind us that despite the years between me and the people in the portraits, we are not so different. Through details that are both unique, and at the same time universal, you can help your readers connect to your characters.

If you enjoy stories with dogs in them then check out my romance novels because many of my stories have dogs in them.

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