I've come to realize that in writing, it's often the little things that bring a character to life more than anything else. It's the little things that make our characters interesting, enjoyable, and sometimes frustrating. Just like with us, they often tell people more about who we are than anything else.
Like when your crayon-wielding son gives you the illegible, hand-drawn Father's Day card--the one with the picture where you look more like a giraffe than a human and you search the entire house looking for a magnet that will hold it to the refrigerator. Or when your daughter gives you the broken limb from a dogwood tree that you're expected to plant and keep alive until she's married because it has pretty flowers on it.
Those are wonderful snapshot moments in time. But what if those moments occurred years ago? Do they reveal only who we were as opposed to who we are? Do they give our characters history?
Consider: In a few years that young father will age and become like me. Upper-middle-aged. A laundry list of new character-revealing traits emerge. Like when said upper-middle-aged man ponders how it's even possible that a single eyebrow hair can grow to a full inch in length. Overnight. And how he must be careful when trimming that lone rogue with battery-powered hair trimmers using the one upper-middle-aged eye that can see around hands and clippers.
The aging father remembers how he prayed for hair to cover his smooth chest because all the other young fathers had hair and he had none. And waking one morning to find that hair had indeed grown, but on top of his shoulders, down his back, out of his ears, and his chest was still bare. How he made the mental note to be more specific in subsequent prayers and wondered if Gabriel and Michael peered down from Heaven pointing and giggling at God's latest prank.
I wrote in a previous post about how it's easy to capture the mundane, but where one detail can bore the reader with unnecessary information another detail can bring a character to life and do as much--if not more--than the primary plot can ever accomplish.
Maybe it's more important to see what Mom does while making breakfast than it is to know what she's serving. Perhaps it's not little Johnny's refusal to eat his cabbage that fascinates us, but rather seeing the face he makes when Mom sets it on the table. Suzie's math test may have received a bad grade, but watching her evade Dad when she brings it home tells us more about Suzie than the simple fact that she finds mathematics challenging.
Life is filled with these little moments of thought and behavior that when properly revealed to readers enables them to identify with our characters. To love them or hate them or feel for them like we want.
What are the little things about your characters that will tell me who they truly are?