Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Character Building part 4

The other day, I was reading a short story on Inkpop.  There were more than a dozen teens at a party, and the writer constantly pointed out eye color and hair color.  Every time another character was mentioned, even if they weren't important to the story, she put their eye and hair color until it became ridiculous.  Instead of reading the story for enjoyment, I found myself watching for the next mention of color.  The story gave me an idea for a new Character Building article: How do you describe your characters without annoying the reader?

First of all, I'd like to talk about choosing what your characters will look like.  Other writers have told me they don't do this, but I pick famous people to be my characters.  It's easier for me to picture them in my mind if I am already familiar with them.  In Vampires Rule, for instance, I chose Thomas Dekker (I think that's how you spell his name) from the Terminator tv series to be Jack Creed.  His character on the show, John Connor, had this vulnerability with the untapped potential of great strength that I wanted for Jack. 

Secondly, let's talk about how to describe the characters without making a list.  Writing 'Jane has blond hair and blue eyes' doesn't sound as good as 'Jane's long blond hair flew around her face, out of control, as a violent wind swept in from the Pacific Ocean.'  Then you can describe her blue eyes gazing at something, blinking them rapidly, etc. 

Sometimes it's hard to think of an original way to describe a character.  In one of my books, I described a certain young man from the female character's view.  She was secretly in love with him.  He reminded her of a tropical vacation from his hair, the color of warm sand, to his Caribbean blue eyes.  He had the body of a surfer, lean and muscular, a golden tan, and he always smelled like the sun to her.

I also find it interesting that some readers don't want to have a description.  They ignore it because they already have someone in mind to play the part.  Sometimes I ask people who they picture as my characters after they've read one of my books.  They answers always amaze and irritate me.  Then I spend several minutes trying to convince them that they're wrong.  lol

I don't ask anymore.

Happy writing.


LisaAnn said...

I used to always fall into the hair/eye color mistake myself... And then one day I realized I don't even know what color most of my friend's eyes are in real life!

And I definitely secretly cast folks to play characters in my book. Most of the time, it's just a general guideline--and fun exercise for me!--but I'm so obsessed with the idea that the villain in my WIP is Nestor Carbonell from "Lost" (you know, the guy who plays Richard Alpert with the thick black eyelashes) that I just can't see him as anyone else... ;)

Jettica said...

This is something that, as a writer, I struggle with. At least in my current WIP. I'm writing in third person limited so my character isn't suddenly going to acknowledge that her green eyes were blinking rapidly at the sunlight.

I also don't think she's the type to notice the eye colour of others. She's too busy focusing on the task at hand. I think I've got around it but it'll be interesting to see how people picture my characters when I let them read the story.

Talia Jager said...

I struggle with this too. I often describe the characters when they're first mentioned in the story and then very rarely do I bring it up again. I wonder if this is wrong.

Many books out there mention a character's looks over and over again. I want to scream... "YES! I know he has blue eyes!! I know because you've mentioned it 100 times!!"

Maybe this is just me? I notice what people look like when I meet them, but I'm not constantly making comments about them or thinking about it unless they change something ("Love the new haircut").

I find it difficult at times to come up with an original character description. That's one thing I'm working on.