Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Characters

Don't forget my interview with YA author/agent Mandy Hubbard. Monday March 1st. There will be a chance to win a copy of Mandy's book, Prada and Prejudice. Hope to see you here. =)

In Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell suggests we start a character voice journal. "You are trying to let the voice of the character develop organically. You want to be able to hear the character so he/she doesn't sound like any of the other characters." Start a free-form document that is just the voice of your character, in stream-of-consciousness mode. Mr. Bell says to go wild with this. Have the character answer such questions as: What do you care most about in the world?
What really ticks you off? Let the answers come in any form, without editing. Your goal isn't to create usable text (though that can happen). You're trying to get to know this character that you will be spending all this time with.
 And it works.

'When describing your characters, professional writers are of two minds. Some believe in giving a full visual description. They want to control the picture in the mind of the reader. The other view, much more popular today, is minimalist. It recognizes that readers are going to form their own picture regardless, and that will be more powerful than what you, the author, can come up with."

When I read a book, I form my own opinions of the characters physical descriptions. I like it that way. In my novel, I don't physically describe the characters too much. Oh, we know that Anna has red hair, and I show that through her sometimes nasty temper and we know that Claire is short, which I show in her tiny frame clinging to Rundee's neck as Rundee (her horse) becomes spooked from the thunder storm. But I want to leave much up to the readers imagination. And I don't use descriptions in a generic way. No matter how much description you add, describe the characters in such a way that you add to the tone of the novel. Descriptions should do more than create a picture--they should support the other things you're doing in the story.

Mr. Bell reminds us that in Donald Westlake's 361, the lead character loses an eye in chapter one. In chapter two, he gets a glass eye. Later on, when trying to convince an old man to talk, he pops out the glass eye and uses it for shock value. It works. The old man keels over and dies. That, Mr. Bell reminds us, is getting double duty out of character traits. On Friday I will have more on characters. This stuff is just too good not to talk about.

So which approach to describing characters do you use? Thank you for reading. I love y'all! =)

32 comments:

  1. I love talking about characters!!! Only because I love to create them. Much like many other readers I love to form my own description of a character so while writing I keep the details to a minimum, I myself have the perfect laid out girl but my readers won't see the girl I'm picture, I make sure to say that she has red hair, she is pasty white, but those two things could amount to almost anything!!

    Awesome post!!

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  2. Hey Jen! Agreed. I want my readers to have their own pictures in their minds. That is part of the fun of reading. And I know that I love forming my own character pictures. Thanks! =)

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  3. Yep developing characters is the funnest part! Great post.

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  4. Hey Bish. Isn't that the MOST fun part? Thanks. =)

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  5. Love the idea of a character voice journal! Nice post. Thanks!

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  6. Hey Liza. The character voice journal is just sooo cool, isn't it? =)

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  7. I give brief descriptions - hair color, eye color, a mention about weight (size 32 jeans), chunky, etc. - and then let the reader come up with the rest of the description in their mind.

    Tolkien was a master at given just enough description about his characters so that the reader could form a vivid picture in their mind. The problem: when they were casting Lord of the Rings I always saw Harrison Ford as Aragorn because he fit the brief descriptive details Tolkien provided. Still, I liked Viggo in the role.

    Great post, my friend.

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  8. Great post, Robyn!! I use the minimalist view too. I think it just makes sense not to spend a lot of time describing anything, unless it really matters to the story. I like the idea of bringing out a trait that can do double duty. Thanks for sharing this!

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  9. I love to emphasize if a character has a unique marking or hairstyle. Too much description can muck up the work and stall the conflict or action.

    I do enjoy coming up with creative ways of giving small details.
    ~ Wendy

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  10. Scott, I (YIKES)=) agree with you about the casting of Lord of the Rings. (Is the world coming to an end?) hehe But I also agree that Viggo was super in the role. It just goes to show. Doesn't it? Readers have their own visions of characters and what they look like. (^_^)

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  11. Jody, I use to write every detail of my characters, down to the gold tooth in the front. It was then that I learned too much is way too much. =)

    And using the double duty trait makes for such great reading. I have went in and used this in SEVENTY TWO HOURS. It just makes it so much better. =)

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  12. Wendy, thanks for reminding us that too much detail can stall the conflict. Very cool. I had forgotten to mention that little piece of info.. =)

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  13. I have to see my characters before I write their story, I need a face to put with a name. If there are distinct features that set them apart I do describe them.

    I'm reading The Book Thief and the author does a wonderful job of describing each character- and I love that!

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  14. Hey Tamika. I love description, but minimal amounts of it. But in my mind, I must have an idea of what I think my characters look like. I just leave most of it up to the reader. =)

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  15. Robyn - you and I agreeing? The world must have come to an end and nobody bothered to tell us. Ha! Viggo did make the role his own. I love those movies. I still think, based on Tolkien's descriptions, Harrison Ford would have been the perfect Strider. The one casting faux pas . . . Cate Blanchett (sp?) as Galadriel. I know elves are immortal, but . . . I think an older actress would have done better in the part.

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  16. Wonderful post! Hmmm. My technique more involves that moment in time in a story where a life is changed. Then I build the character from that moment. As in An Irishwoman's Tale. How can a little girl survive--and thrive--after her first memory of, "The Little Eejit's Got to Go."

    Does that make sense?

    Patti

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  17. I have a picture of my characters in my head, but it isn't concrete. I like the minimalist descrips - leaving something to the imagination of the reader. Also, over-describing can get boring. Thanks for the great post!!

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  18. Good post! I definitely like to use my imagination. As for character voice, I think that's the hardest thing for me to do.

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  19. My descriptions are usually brief, but I find that some of my stories are more detailed than others. I get inspired in different ways, and that often leads to different types of stories. I can't decide which ones I prefer, though. I think I'm still learning that.

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  20. The fabulous Jamie Harrington (blog: www.totallythebomb.com) gave me the idea to do character collages--I love doing these and I find myself learning WAY more about my character through these excercises. I'll try the voice journal, too--sounds like more of the same kind of fun!

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  21. Scott, AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH! We agree, we agree. YIKES! What did I say. The world is coming to an end. Run for your lives...

    Well I always thought that the Elf Queen Galadriel should have been played by Meryl Streep. She has a certain elfness about her. Plus, she has a queenly look. =)

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  22. Patti, yes! You make perfect sense. And I believe you have hit on exactly what he is saying. The building of the character from that moment. =)

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  23. Hey Mary. I agree about how over describing can really be boring. How many of us have put down books because they went over board describing characters and left nothing to our imagination. =)

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  24. Jessica, character voice can be tough. I sometimes stay in mine at home for days. The kids love it, the hubby too. And it helps me develop it. =)

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  25. Hey Davin!! I agree that it is all in the story we are writing. Some stories would call for more description. Like a historical novel. We would definitely use more description then. =) You will learn which you prefer. It does take time. For me it's adventure and mystery. I loves me a good mystery. =) And I prefer the minimalist way. But like I said, it would depend on the genre too. =)

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  26. Chantal, Ivy loves your name, btw. Her fav jockey is Chantal Sutherland. =)

    The collages sound way cool. I think I'll try one on my very new WIP. Thanks for the tip! =)

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  27. I go with giving a little bit and letting the reader decide everything else. :)

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  28. YAY Elana. A little goeth a LONG way. =)

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  29. I like this little bit advice. I've started pruning my descriptions lately. Glad you had a great week off, Robyn, and very glad you're back!

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  30. Awesome post! That sounds like a great self-help book. I'll have to check it out. I like that minimalist idea; I'm going to have to go back to my WIP and see how much I describe my characters. Yikes.

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  31. Robyn, I love this post! It is super helpful. I think I've read that book, but it's time to do it again.
    Thank you!

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