I volunteer at my kids’ school each week, helping teach karate classes in the after-school program. This usually involves me getting dressed up in a funny-looking pair of white pajamas and trying to get a roomful of toddlers (many with attention spans shorter than a fruit fly’s) to stop talking and pay attention to the real karate teacher long enough to soak up some important aspect of Kenpo karate.
We try to mix things up and make it fun for them and mostly the lessons seem to sink in for a majority of the children.
On the other days of the week I’m just a regular old dad, dropping off and picking up my girls, attending parent/teacher conferences, etc. Often, the karate kids are surprised to see me in street clothes, and have reactions ranging from “Karate teacher! Time for karate!” to “Karate teacher? What are you doing here?”
These kids think of me as “The Karate Teacher,” even though when I think or talk about myself this is the farthest thing from my mind. The uniform has ‘branded’ me in their minds, and it’s hard for me to grow beyond that first impression that it has created for them.
How does this apply to writing, you ask?
When you’re writing fiction, sometimes lengthy, detailed character descriptions can get in the way of the story. The reader wants to be caught up in your narrative – they’ll envision a character for themselves based upon his or her actions, dialogue, speech patterns, and thoughts. Don’t get it the way of that with overly descriptive paragraphs outlining each wrinkle on the character’s face.
Give your reader the freedom to “fill in the blanks” and only sketch out the basic details needed to bring the character to life.