Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Characters You Can Pinch - Part 3

Using Character Description to Your Advantage

"Tommy came in wearing a pair of blue jeans with a brown sweater."
The above is straight-forward.  It tells the reader what the character's wearing, but do you care?  What is this line missing?  In one simple word:  Purpose!

Just because you have 75-110k words in a novel, doesn't mean we can be sloppy with how we use them.  Our job as writers is to hook our reader, and keep 'em hooked.  And we're not going to do it when we formulate a character description based on the above-noted template.  We all wear clothes, so unless it's a sex scene (in which clothes wouldn't matter lol) or the outfit has purpose to the scene, lose it.

Make the descriptions you give matter not only to the reader but to the character whose POV you're in.  What about the other character's appearance affects them?

Drawing from the above example, who doesn't own a pair of blue jeans?  And a brown sweater? B-O-R-I-N-G observations.

Remember, give it purpose, make it matter.  Let's try it again, keeping this in mind.
Tommy walked in, wearing the same old tattered blue jeans he had from his days in high school.  I just wished I could still fit in mine.
See how this has more substance?  What Tommy's wearing affects the POV character.  Maybe, they've put on some weight while Tommy doesn't have to struggle with it.

My example focused on wardrobe but the same applies when it comes to their physical qualities - hair color, height, weight, and so on.  And just because you may be able to see your characters clearly, doesn't mean you have to describe them in bullet-style detail, as if rhyming off a bunch of details.  Pick one or two  things to focus on.

Another key thing I've learned is how to use repetition of main attributes to keep a character's appearance fresh in your reader's mind.  
For more on this, join me tomorrow for Part 4.
_______________________________________
Next post:  Characters You Can Pinch - Part 4:  Repetition of Character Attributes