Steps to a Story: The Little Things

I had to do some scheduling yesterday; not for me, but for my characters.  I knew that the three units in the army troop Matthew is part of had a rotation for duties, but I had to figure out how to make it all work out.  It required pulling out a piece of paper and pencil to actually schedule the three units for me to clearly figure out the rotation.

It probably doesn’t matter what the rotation is.  It’s mentioned briefly in the story, so I needed to figure it out, but I’d be incredibly surprised if anyone even gave a second thought to the scheduling.  There are lots of small details like this that go into creating a story, lots of tiny pieces and random facts that the author needs to know.

The reader may never know that someone was bullied as a child, but it impacts how that character reacts in a multitude of situations.  Side characters may have involved back stories that lead to their presence in the story, but if they don’t relate to the action at the present time, why spend the time detailing that history? 

So if the reader is never going to learn it, why develop it at all?  First, these little details add depth and background to characters and their reactions.  These people that you are reading about are people; they exist in some way beyond just their responses to this situation.  Second, tiny details breathe life into the story.  Of course it doesn’t matter (most of the time) the color of someone’s chair or the flavor of someone’s ice cream.  But if I describe the chair, or add the flavor, it gives the reader a better image of the scene.  The same applies to a character.  I might mention something in passing that offers a glimpse of that back story, that depth, and it makes it easier for the reader to become attached to the character, to care about what happens.