Character Descriptions

My friend Jenny did a great piece on character description, called Building Character, HERE

https://scribblesoncocktailnapkins.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/building-character/comment-page-1/#comment-19

I tend to not describe my characters, not so the reader can imagine them as the reader wants, as some have suggested I do, and complimented me for doing. I’m lazy. And sometimes I just forget.

It happens!
It happens!

Allow me to explain.

When I meet somebody in person for the first time, my brain does a lot of processing. How tall you are, your hair color, your smile, maybe your perfume, and even the clothes you’re wearing are going to tell me about your economic status, as will your demeanor and vocabulary. How I’ll remember you for next time, your engagement with me, attitude toward me, etc., if you react like I’m a stalker, all that goes through my head and is filed away.

That’s a lot of information – and probably boring to read.

That IS boring!
That IS boring!

With characters, especially important ones, I drop it in here and there, in bits and pieces if I do it at all. With bit players, I tend to give a very brief- VERY brief – general description. Tall and thin with a great mustache. Heavy set and matronly. Good enough.

My MC in Poggobonsi, written in 1st person, is taller than me, in my mind, but not a lot taller. Other characters (usually women) have to look up at him, so he is perceived as tall. Other characters swoon at his good looks, so he is perceived as very handsome.

He’s more Jude Law, one reader noted, than Ben Stiller. Okay; but I don’t think I described him much at all. I let readers come to know he is good looking but I don’t think I ever described his hair color or eye color, only that he works out by running. The doctor during a physical enjoys looking at his butt (she’s a bit nutty, that doctor, and very unprofessional). There is very little description of him, because I just kinda forgot to do it, and because it wasn’t really important.

Yeah, Leo's too short.
Yeah, Leo’s too short.

But…

Here’s the thing – if I have a character going on and on about how great Mike’s butt is, but I don’t actually describe it, YOU THE READER get to decide what his butt looks like.  The doctor says it’s a great butt! What’s that look like? Who knows? It’s ideal to you, not round or bubble-butt or whatever I think you’d like. I could guess wrong. You won’t.

However, contrast that with the beautiful Julietta, the young lady in the story that Mike falls for. I spend a WHOLE CHAPTER describing her. Now, that’s folded in with Mike trying to check her out without being noticed, and a lot of other things are happening, but that’s the whole point of the chapter, and we go into very specific details about Julietta. Her eye color, the shape of her nose, her nice clothes, her hair, buttons – all gone into detail, but in an interesting way. The scene has decent tension, even. It’s a good scene.

Why do that with her and not him?

Because it shows how much he was taken with her, among other things, and his emotional turmoil over seeing such a beautiful woman and noticing her so much, and if he notices her that much, WE notice her that much.

Because Mike is attractive to you, but Julietta is attractive to Mike.

And – pay attention, this is tricky – if WE like Mike, and Mike likes Julietta, WE like Julietta. See how that works? Now, she can’t be a raging shrew, and she’s not, but everybody ends up liking her because Mike does, if we got to know him and like him first. Cool, huh?

Whatever you do, don’t stop your story to go on and on about what a new character looks like. Yawn. Do it in an interesting way. Like I do, or like Jenny described.

Character descriptions are additional colors and details we paint or don’t paint onto the canvasses of our stories. You get to decide how you want them. Just be aware, there’s a lot of power in the reader’s imagination, and sometimes we want to use that; other times we want to take control and force that description onto the reader, but ALWAYS we want to be entertaining in it.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

4 thoughts on “Character Descriptions

  1. Thanks for the shout out! You’ve made some excellent points here. I can appreciate the style of writing where physical descriptions are limited. Many writers tackle their work this way to enable their readers to place themselves in the narrator’s shoes.
    I read a lot, and enjoy both tactics, as long as the author doesn’t add an important description in the middle of the book that I wasn’t anticipating.
    Great notes here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve done that, too – been halfway through and said, “Oh, I forgot,” and added in something I needed from chapter 1. But I go back and PUT it into chapter 1! To do otherwise is, well, lazy and will read as an Oh I Forgot moment. When people do that in a critique group piece, I call ’em on it. We have these cool things called computers that will let you go back and fit it in where it belongs.

      Liked by 1 person

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