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 , 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….