View Full Version : Less 3 - Descriptions and Markers

June 13th, 2011, 11:15 AM
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The best sort of description is the a description that has life:
From Jane Riller, The Best Revenge : “My father is still living, but less and less. Judge James Charles Endicott Jackson, his ‘appellations’ as he called his full name, that tall, lean, hollow-cheeked man who had made such a religion of the law, preached from the head of our dining-room table each evening of my young life.”

Also, realize that description tells as much about the POV character who is doing the describing as it does about the character that is being described.
From my book, Hot Under Pressure:
“It was almost seven when they met with Mariah, just as the woman was closing up her studio. The place was blazing with psychedelic colors and a chaotic mix of fabric and textures that defied description.
Very Stella McCartney with a head-rush.
The clothes were arranged in disordered, yet strategic piles. It was organized anarchy, which suited the owner because Mariah D’Angelo was as intimidating as leg warmers, circa 1983. Her hair hung in a long, kinked black braid down her back, and she wore blue jeans, an artistically ripped black t-shirt, her feet sporting polka-dotted high-tops.
Hard to believe, yet true.”

The point here was to show a bit of Ashley’s personality (the POV character) and the way she views the world.

There are romance writers, who do a lot of description, especially for the hero. Jane from DearAuthor once had a blog post on hero descriptions. I believe it was in reference to erotic romance, but the comments on that post really stuck in my mind. Readership was evenly divided between readers wanting lots of partially exaggerated physical description “rock-hard abs,” “six foot-five,” etc. and preferring to let the reader’s imagination take over. I don’t like a lot of physical description, as my imagination is really better than anybody’s smilies/beer1.gif, and as such, I don’t do a lot of physical description in my books. However, the audience is evenly decided on lots of physical stuff or not a lot, so write whatever is comfortable for you.

Show don’t tell, actions tell us who the characters are, especially actions that are not made in a black and white vacuum.

Don’t limit your characters to descriptions, much more interesting if they have different aspects that are revealed to reader, one by one, like an onion. However, I think each layer of the onion should be different from the last. BUT going back to rule number one. Should be truthful, and consistent with the character. From Robert McKee’s book entitled Story, “Dimension means contradiction; either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition), or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief). These contradictions must be consistent. It doesn’t add dimension to portray a guy as nice through a film, then in one scene have him kick a cat.”

Multiple face theory. Think about yourself and how many different faces you have. It’s more than one. You have one way of acting/talking with your parents, or your boss, or your best friend who has known you forever, or your significant other. You are still the same person, but the way you respond to the other people in your life will be different.

Let the reader figure the character out on their own. There’s a song that has the following line which is appropriate in writing, too:

Old Mr. Webster could never define, What's being said between your heart and mine


Markers are defined as using the familiar traits, the recognizable to bring the reader into your story world. This is different from a stereotype.

Examples might be:

Jingling change in their pocket
Tapping their fingers on the steering wheel. My Dad does this and everytime I read a character who does that, I have a little “awww” moment because it reminds me of someone I love.
Swaying back and forth when they talk. I used to work with a geeky guy who did this, and I also heard that Bill Gates does this as well. There was an article recently about a theory that some autistic kids use movement to help them process information.

So here’s the assignment for this week. Let’s take our tattooed biker girl (we’re going to make her a girl, not a guy). We’re going to call her Caliope. Now we want to give her a description, from two different character’s POV. First, the heroine’s father, who loves her very much, but worries about her. And also, from the hero’s POV. I’ll let everyone create a hero of their own for her.

As for this assignment, don’t worry about complete sentences, or grammatical structure, just throw out some phrases that the mom or the hero might use to describe the heroine. And I’ll try to guess what sort of hero we have….

June 19th, 2011, 10:59 AM
Sorry, I'm jumping in late here, but I'm still the first one to post. I hope this is right. This is a wonderful seminar btw, very helpful for me. Right now I am doing a re-write for my 1st wip a crit partner said my characters need more definition. After reading lesson one and two I understand why. I spent more time describing their physical and not their internal character. :) Thank you

Watching her pull the helmet from her head, her long brown hair blew in the wind. She was dressed in leather from head to toe. As he stood on the front porch, he wondered what her newest tattoo would look like or what she had pierced now. Making her way up the side walk of the home she grew up in he could see her face was unchanged. She was still his sweet and innocent Caliope, well maybe not so innocent now. But still his little girl. She was beautiful just like her mother and had the same facial features. Flawless skin, identical nose, and full pink lips defined her beauty. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine why she wanted to portray herself as such a badass. But he knew the real Cali the one that hid behind the persona of biker chic.
The first time he laid eyes upon her, he knew she was the one. The way she rallied and pulled the biker community together to raise money for the children’s hospital was remarkable. She was an amazing woman his Caliope. Her tattoos told her story each one held a meaning even he would never fully know. Her struggles of growing up without her mom and a father who didn’t completely understand her were portrayed in each colorful story. Like an artist’s canvas, the paint brought her to life.

June 21st, 2011, 02:17 PM
Beautiful job, Rachel. You can feel the hero's love for the heroine, even thought it was never stated. In romance, that's hugely important for the reader to feel the love, rather than read it. You've written backstory, emotional resonance, and also physical description, but it doesn't read like a police sketch. Bravo!Bouncy Icon Smilie

June 21st, 2011, 09:13 PM
Yippeee!!! I think I have finally caught on!!! Thank you very much!!