Monday, March 17, 2014

The Basics of Character Descriptions

**Note: I've had a conversation about this with a few friends, and I learned that apparently this issue bothers me more than most. As you should with everything I say on my blog, take the advice with a grain of salt, and remember that it's my own opinion. If you disagree, tell me! Politely, though; leave a comment, or shoot me a message. I'd love to hear what you have to say on the matter.**

So one of the books I'm reading kind of made me think about the ways I don't like characters being described. And this strays from that cliche no-no of having the character wake up and look in the mirror and then boom description.

Just look at this example (completely made up, even though I really wanted to use the sentence that irked me):

Her velvety, golden hair was spillling over her shoulders.

And then a sentence later:

Her big, shockingly green eyes stared up from from her round face.

So we know that she has golden/blonde hair and really green eyes. Don't get me wrong, it's good to know what characters look like, especially important ones. What bothers me are the words 'velvety' and 'shockingly.'

For one, they're adverbs. And while I know that they're occasionally essential to typical grammar and sentence structure, there's a time to use them and a time not to use them. Guess which of those categories those examples fit under? Because the problem isn't that they're being described, it's that they're being described too much and at the wrong time. I'll break it down for you:

Hair: golden, yes. Velvety, no. Take velvety out and put it somewhere else in the novel; maybe somebody's feeling her hair and they describe it as velvet without using the -ly version. Seriously. What's wrong with saying, "He ran his fingers through her hair. It was soft, like velvet." Or even: "She brushed her fingers through her hair; it felt like velvet."

Boom. Just look at what a simile can do.

Eyes: green, yes. Big and shockingly, no. Remove those, save them for a later date. My advice would be to even remove 'big' altogether unless somebody else in the book describes them like that, and without two other descriptive words right next to it. And instead of the word 'shockingly,' why not something snazzier? Try electrifying: "Her eyes were an electrifying shade of green." Dude, shivers.

But my little rant doesn't stop there.

It's my opinion that descriptions that venture beyond basic hair color, eye color, height, weight, and those that need fancy descriptors, should only be used in areas where it's important, where it has some kind of significance. I'll jump into two of my own characters for you:

Ronnie has gold eyes. Gold. And not just that really light shade of hazel kind of thing; like, they're unnatural, and it's due to her bionic nature. In fact, everybody who's been bio-mechanically enhanced her has gold eyes, so it represents a certain type of people. The only time I use an adjective like shocking or piercing is when it's from Moe's point of view, because it's something that Moe has never seen before.

Moe has a scar on her arm. Not just any scar, though: somebody carved the word 'thief' into her, and it's a mark that both defines her and makes her extremely recognizable. Here, I tend to mention is sometimes because it's a habit of hers to subconsciously  run her fingers over the scar. It's a painful memory for her, something that haunts her, and that makes it more significance than mentioning how dull her eyes might be.

In both of these cases, I haven't yet used an adverb in my manuscript (at least, I don't think I have). And I don't use more than one adjective in a row on them. More often than not, I'll stay simple, and not even venture further than saying that somebody has gray eyes and black hair (*coughs* Jackson and Lyle).

Why? Because more often than not, the physical descriptions of characters aren't important. Unless you're talking about a brown-eyed girl living in Nazi Germany, her eyes don't really need much more of a description than that they were brown. Her eyes being brown have no impact on whether she's going to slay a dragon. But, you could have a situation like:

Bob: "You have brown eyes."
Sally: "So?"
Bob: "They're pretty. They remind me of the color of soil after it rains."

See what I did there? To Bob, they might be the most beautiful thing in the world. So let him tell the reader that, not the narrator.

Stay Crazy,


Thoughts or Questions? Let me know what you think!

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