Deadly Duck Into Good Duck #amwriting

Good DuckI’ve said that you don’t want to overwhelm your reader with extraneous detail jumbled all over the foreground of your book. I’ve said that detail woven unobtrusively into the background can enrich the reader’s experience.

Now Imma tell you about unimportant details that aren’t – or weren’t – actually vital to the story but have been used to brilliant effect.

Good Duck #1 Anne’s red hair

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES‘ heroine was an orphan with red hair. That could have stayed in the background, referenced in passing now and then just to remind the reader. Instead, Anne’s red hair is used almost as a symbol of her status as an orphan; it’s not just a detail, but is part of who she is. She’s morbidly sensitive about it, and Gilbert’s calling her “Carrots” is a major event in the book and in their lives.

Good Duck #2 Mma Ramotswe’s size, beverage, transportation

In THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY, we meet Precious Ramotswe. She’s “traditionally built” (large), drinks red bush tea, and drives a tiny white van. None of these are necessarily important but, again, they become symbols of who Mma is. Mma is traditional in many ways, even though she has followed her father’s advice and sold her legacy cows to open a business usually dominated by men. Red bush tea is not just African, it’s local. Her loyalty to her tiny white van, just big enough and no bigger, brings her together with the man she eventually marries. It also serves to highlight a positive trait that doubles as a flaw: an unthinking loyalty to the past that can turn into an unwillingness to change for the better.

Good Duck #3 Piggy’s specs

In LORD OF THE FLIES, one of the main boys, Piggy, wears spectacles. They didn’t need to be anything but a tag to (along with his overweight, his asthma, and his dull ordinariness) differentiate him from the others. But Golding makes them a symbol of technology, useful for starting a fire for cooking and signaling for help. Their loss is devastating, and their destruction signals a willful descent into sub-human barbarism.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Pick a random detail in your work in progress and think about how you could make it important. I’m not challenging you to DO anything about it, just play with the idea.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Deadly Duck Into Good Duck #amwriting

  1. Jane

    March 23, 2015 at 9:23am

    Shall I say it?
    Oh, why not?
    Really got your ducks in a—
    What’s that?
    Stop screaming at me.
    I won’t do i again.
    I think.
    OK, then.

    Great post.
    Great examples.
    Good lesson.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. A.C. Flory

    March 23, 2015 at 5:53pm

    You definitely have all those duckies in a row. 😀

    As a pantster, I find that small, irrelevant details often take on great significance when I work on the plot. Of course as a pantster, I always work on the plot as I go, so weaving those details in is fairly easy [so long as I think of it].

    Very enjoyable post.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 23, 2015 at 5:57pm

      I seem to be a plotser (or is that plotzer?): I try to plot, but I have to pants around a lot before I know what the plot is, and then I have to go back and shove in the bits that relate to the details that turn out to be significant. As dear Mr. Shakespeare put it, I rough-hew it and then I shape the ends.

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      • A.C. Flory

        March 23, 2015 at 6:26pm

        lol – I’m a bit of a hybrid too. I suspect that any story that goes from point A to point B requires some plotting somewhere along the way.

        I tend to create a plot outline at about 1/4 of the way through. Then I ignore it almost completely until I get stuck again. I also do a hell of a lot of restructuring because my flashes of insight rarely occur at the optimal spot in the story. They usually need to be slotted in somewhere else before they work properly.

        Lots of extra work involved in being a pantler? plotzter? But I couldn’t work any other way.

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        • Author

          Marian Allen

          March 23, 2015 at 6:37pm

          I think you’re right; it is a lot of work, but we can only work in the way that … well … works for us, right? 🙂

          Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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