Small Gestures: The details that bring a character to life — Welcome Back guest Meri Allen #giveaway

Ginny is the winner of Meri’s giveaway! Watch for an email from Meri!

I was lucky enough to live near Meri/Shari for a number of years! She’s a great friend and excellent writer. Today we are celebrating the release of Fatal Fudge Swirl, the third book in her Ice Cream Shop mysteries.

Meri Allen/Shari Randall:

Recently I had the amazing good fortune of attending a performance of “Jewels” by the New York City Ballet. (Author note: I took out paragraphs of gushing admiration so you won’t have to wade through it, but let me tell you, this ballet is sheer beauty.) The choreographer, George Balanchine, is regarded as one of the all-time greats.

Each section of the ballet has a different feel created by the choreography, music, costumes, and set design. The ballet was inspired by Balanchine’s favorite dancers and, the story goes, a visit to Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry store.

Though the dancers’ big moves are impressive, the small gestures highlighted and differentiated the character of each section. The mood of “Emeralds” was romantic and subtle, the mood of “Rubies” brash and playful, the mood of “Diamonds” glittering and formal. It was a master class in the ways different elements create a whole.

Writers do that too, combining setting, character, dialogue, plot, and pace into, we hope, an entertaining book. But one thing at Jewels stood out to me. It was the small gestures — the shrug of a shoulder, fingertips reaching but not quite touching, the toss of a head – that conveyed so much emotion, so subtly, but so immediately and forcefully.

I realized that the small gestures in books make an impact, too. Think about the small details, habits, gestures, and catch phrases of your favorite characters and what these things tell us:

Hercule Poirot and his “little grey cells” catchphrase. A small but telling description – scientific and formal. His luxurious moustaches, on the other hand, point to a bit of vanity.

Ann Cleeves’s Vera’s battered hat. It is the hat of a woman who is down to earth, practical, and no-nonsense, a woman who knows herself and doesn’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

Miss Marple’s knitting. It’s always something soft and wooly, but needles are sharp, aren’t they? Her hobby gives us a clue to her personality.

My sleuth, Riley Rhodes, makes lists, reflecting an organized mind, necessary for running a popular ice cream shop and solving murders. Allegra Larkin, the star of my Lobster Shack Mysteries, is a dancer well-attuned to the importance of those tiny, unconscious “tells” that reveal so much about a person, especially a person who has something to hide.

Even little details can tell us something important about a character.

What small detail tells us the most about your favorite character? I’ll send a copy of FATAL FUDGE SWIRL to one lucky commenter. US only please. Note: Please include your email address when you sign in to comment to be included in the giveaway. Without that information we have no way to contact you.

Meri Allen is the author of the Ice Cream Shop Mystery series starring former CIA librarian, Riley Rhodes. “Meri Allen” is the pen name of Shari Randall, who also wrote the award-winning Lobster Shack Mystery series. A native New Englander, she lives a short walk from a lighthouse with her good-sport husband and way too many books. Her latest book is FATAL FUDGE SWIRL.

You can find her on social media at @meriallenbooks or @sharirandallauthor.

41 Thoughts

  1. Congratulations, Meri/Shari! That ballet sounds glorious – I love the ballet and haven’t been in too long. Good points about the small gestures, and good timing for me as I’m writing a first draft and need to remember tips like yours.

    1. Hi Edith, good luck with the writing. You my dear, hardly need tips. I saw that you’re on writing retreat – I’m already looking forward to reading that new book!

    2. Hi Edith (I hope this doesn’t post a million times – computer glitches this morning!) I heard you’re on writing retreat – best wishes with the writing. I know you’re going to hit it out of the park with the new book!

      1. Welcome!! For me it is the characters personality. How they treat others with simple gestures.

        Fun question!!

  2. To me, it would be how the character interacts with others. It can be a kind word or a gentle touch on the arm that makes someone feel comfortable or the rise of an eyebrow to question a statement of another. An encouraging nod can give a character the courage to tell something that needs to be said. The act of going to stand by someone can prove to them that you have their back against an opposing force. In stories as in life, it’s often the little gestures that make or break a connection, start or continue a friendship or making a point in a statement.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of FATAL FUDGE SWIRL. It’s on my TBR list and I would LOVE the opportunity to read and review this book that I know is going to be a fabulous read.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  3. The jewel them of that ballet sounds mesmerizing to me!! Ballet dancers are so graceful, they really do show so much emotion and feeling with their every move.

    The first thought of something of a favorite character that tells something important about them was Julia Snowden’s boat in Barbara Ross ‘ Maine Clambake Mysteries! It’s not something little, but it’s the a symbol to me of their life on the ocean, travel to the island where the old family estate is, and where they make a living with their clambakes.

  4. How the person interacts with their pets is important and if there is a pet at all

    fruitcrmble AT comcast DOT net

  5. Welcome Meri/Shari!!! I have enjoyed and given 5-star reviews for your 3 wonderful books in this series, and am hungry for more! I look for kindness and consideration in my cozy mysteries’ characters…or the very lack thereof in the criminals 🙂 Thank you for your generosity in offering to send a copy of FATAL FUDGE SWIRLS. I already had the pleasure of reding and reviewing it, so please do not include me in the contest. Thank you so much for all the fun you provide for us readers! Luis at ole dot travel

  6. Good morning, Luis! Your kind words have brightened my day. You make a good point about kindness in a character – that’s essential for me. Have a great day!

  7. Congratulations, Meri/Shari Balanchine was a master of nuance. I’m looking forward to reading FATAL FUDGE SWIRL. The cover is fabulous. I try to give my characters little tells, but most often I find the characters themselves have created them.

  8. Fatal Fudge Swirl would be greatly enjoyed. A character with empathy, consideration for others and understanding is important.

  9. Very true. Little things can mean so much more and tell us so much about a character. (No need to enter me in the giveaway since I’ve already enjoyed this great book.)

  10. I like how one of my favorite sleuths bakes cookies to help her work through and solve her mysteries. I like how Riley makes new ice cream flavors. Thank you!

  11. Congratulations! I always say how a character treats animals (especially pets) tells me all I need to know. All they nurturing (loving), neglectful (angry), talk to their pet all the time (lonely). aprilbluetx at yahoo dot com

    1. So true! And how the animals treat the characters. Readers have told me they enjoy reading about Sprinkles and Rocky, the ice cream shop’s two feline mascots. Rocky is especially discerning!

  12. Characters with depth, insight and feelings that can assist others in need. A cook who lavishes love on her dishes which reaches others.

  13. My favorite characters love their families, friends, and pets. They have a good sense of humor. ckmbeg (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. Welcome back to the blog, Meri/Shari! And best of luck with Fatal Fudge Swirl. The telling detail is the thing, isn’t it? A dirty, frayed collar tells us more than a description of the whole outfit. I love the telling detail, but I do sometimes get comments from readers wanted full descriptions of characters. I always regret it when I cave to it.

  15. The details that appeal to me are the way the characters interact with one another and their quirky personalities.

  16. My favorite character detail is usually the one you almost miss. Like the character who is always coldly practical, not warm and fuzzy but when almost no one notices, she pets the cat and talks softly to it.

  17. So many great comments already. Certainly the little interactions between close characters is telling, e.g., knowing looks, twinkling eyes, pursed lips. And then there’s Nero Wolfe’s yellow pajamas and black satin spread, Ariadne Oliver’s apples, and Tuppence’s cloche hats. So looking forward to reading your latest book.

  18. What little detail do I like? It’s so hard to choose! I always like details about the protagonist’s appearance because I want to visualize her as clearly as possible. I wish I could be more specific.

  19. One small detail that tells about my favorite character is that she is determined. She does not back off when told things are too dangerous. She is like a dog with a bone. God bless you.

  20. I love positive characters. I want them to be compassionate but to also be passionate about justice being done. I want them to be loyal to the people they care about. I want the main character to be smart in how she/he investigates cherierj(at)yahoo(dot)com

  21. A wonderful post, Shari, and a great reminder for writers! Of course, I already have my Fatal Fudge Swirl so no need to include me in the giveaway.

  22. Congrats on the new book. I have the first book on my TBR list next to my bed. Hopefully I will read it soon. Winning this one, would surely make me read it and buy the 2nd one. Congrats on the book. Sounds like fun.

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