Capture My Mind: Excellent Books Paint Character. #IWSG #AmWriting
[I wrote this post as a member of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our worries and also offer support and encouragement to each other on the first Wednesday of every month. If you’re a writer like me and you’re looking for a bit of support, you can click the link and sign up here]
This month’s awesome hosts are, Christine Rains , Dolarah @ Book Lover, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Yvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner
Thank you so much! And thank you founder Alex J. Cavanaugh!
Words are beautiful.
When put together just right, they build a painting in my mind and I’ve always been in love with these word paintings. They show me different worlds where I can see, feel, and smell everything as if I were standing on that boat, sandy beach, rocky mountain or whatever world unfolds. And recently I was drawn to a really great book at a local library because of the excellent title and captivating cover. I didn’t even bother to read the book jacket. I was so convinced it would keep me going from the first perfect sentence to the end.
Later that night, I opened the book. The first sentence read just the way I love them. The first scene drew me right in and it was fun and different. The dialogue was great. The characters really set off my mind. But then, page-by-page, I kept yearning for something … just a glimpse of the face, the eyes, the hair, or even a messy shirt or a fun pair of shoes. I kept going. It might have been 90 pages in when I finally realized the nationality of the main character. My interest was falling apart by then no matter the high caliber of dialogue or the action writing. My painting was a landscape of a pirate ship on the waters, but the captain at the wheel had no face, no height, no fun mustache or a cool costume. My magnificent painting had a glaring white blank blob of canvas. It didn’t feel right.
This month, the IWSG question asked me to reflect on my pet peeve in reading, writing, or editing. I know. I’m bringing up a controversial topic. I’ve read opinions on both sides where some readers and editors prefer no detail. They might think the imagination should create the look. I say, it’s your world you’ve written for me to believe. I want more. I want to see the face in your head the way it should be. I think humans in general, even animals, stop and ponder a reflection in the water, or a mirror. I think we all have self-reflective moments about matching our look with our mood or where we are going from time to time. As I read, I want to see all of these things. That’s the difference for me whether I am drawn in full force, or feel casually nonchalant about a book.
One last thought:
Posted on August 2, 2017, in Uncategorized and tagged Erika Beebe, IWSG. Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.
That’s such an interesting point you make about the degree of imagination a reader wants to have to use when they read a story. I never really thought about it that way. I’m going to have to keep that at the back of my mind when I’m reading to see which I prefer as I’m not really sure 🙂
Thank you Ellen for stopping in today. I am happy I provoked an interesting thought. 🙂
There’s a fine line I think we should travel when providing description: we can’t note every aspect of character/setting but we do have to at least give enough description (it’s a red bird in a cage) for the scene to unfold in the reader’s imagination.
I agree Ronel. I don’t have he patience for everything but I do like to have a few visuals or clues to what the MC looks like 🙂
It’s a balance between too much and not enough and we’ll never please all readers.
I agree Diane 🙂
I’m with you. I need to see a whole picture. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
Thank you Anna. I hope you are well 🙂
You make a good point. I’m usually one of those people who complains about too much description, but this I get. You do need some information to help the mind piece together that rest of the image for you. Nice quote and thanks for stopping by my blog.
You are most welcome Toi. I think too, dialogue can reveal something too. It was just a time traveling book and I couldn’t place the MCs time and they traveled from the 1840s to 2016! I got lost with the juggling and where she was really from for awhile.
Always leave room for the imagination. I enjoy conjuring up ideas about the looks of MCs. I want just enough description to get me started, but don’t go overboard. 🙂
I completely agree Jennifer. A little bit always goes a long way. 😉
That is true! I HATE when authors work the character description in right away in a cheesy way, but we do need to get a picture of the people we’re reading about eventually.
I don’t like a lot of details but hopefully I give my readers enough to go on.
Oh, I bet you do Alex 🙂
You have touched on something I’m struggling with of late, Erika. I’ve been veering away from describing characters in too much detail toward leaving it to a reader’s imagination. It was one of those pieces of advice that resonated with me. Why did I need to know their race or color? But you are making me rethink that. Excellent arguments.
Now I’m back at ‘which do I pick?’
I think a little goes a long way. I do love subtle hints of hair and eyes and fashion. Maybe because I am in love with shapes and color. I am also so visual I obsess in matching my image with the writers or artists. I am sure whatever you decide will be lovely 😉
That’s a really interesting point – I try to put in a bit of detail on the world the character is moving through, but it’s important not to neglect the characters themselves.
Thank you David. I appreciate you stopping in and sharing your perspective with me 🙂
For me as a reader, personality is everything. I don’t need physical details, therefore, I usually forget to include them in my writing. I didn’t realize much of it was missing until a friend, who is like you, expressed how much she wanted to know.
Oddly, I think that’s reflective of my real life. I’m not attracted to physical appearances. I remember in high school how my best friend would comment on how cute a guy was and my response always was an internal wondering of “is he?” (I’ve also wondered if there’s something wrong with me because of it too.) Maybe because I disregard physical appearance in real life, I do it in my books too?
Can sure be tricky, Some want a ton and whine when there isn’t enough and some want bar none and whine when there is too much. Have to try to find a happy medium I guess.
I tend to agree. I like description. And I can go on and on with world building and describing people, and then the story lags. I believe there has to be a happy medium. Maybe sprinkle it in here and there instead of one giant clump.
You brought up an interesting point. I have really loved books where the author must not have given much of description of the characters. It is because when there were films made of the book, and I saw the characters on screen, I thought they did not look at all like I had imagined them. We do have a great ability to imagine what characters look like and I don’t think it takes away from the story if the author does not provide it for us.
I agree with you on books that have made it to movies. When twilight came out, I saw the movies first then read the books. I had the actress in my mind the entire time 🙂
I know and that’s why I try to read the book first. 🙂
This is an interesting perspective. I think I sit on the fence on this argument. In my own writing, I’m experimenting with different ways of giving the reader a clear picture of character descriptions. I like showing a character through the eyes of multiple other characters to show how malleable impressions can be.
I like how you reveal character Raimey. That’s what I try to do too and I think dialogue can reveal a lot too without being too cheesy. 🙂
You raise a very complex issue. I think descriptions, especially character descriptions, are useful in fiction, but as with everything else, they are good only in moderation. As a reader, I like my protagonist described on the first pages of a novel, if not in all details then in the most important ones. But when a writer describes how each character in the novel is dressed (the color and style of shirts and pants for even unnamed characters) I get bored.
As a writer, I tend to describe my characters when I write longer stories – novels or novellas. I rarely describe my characters in short stories. How they look is usually not important for the plot, and a short story is greedy with words. Each one counts.
Saying that, I have to admit that most reviewers of my stories, short stories and even flash fiction included, mention that my descriptions are very evocative. Obviously, I do something right with my descriptions. 🙂
I am right there with you Olga. I think we can hint at the character right away and here is an effective balance. I know for a fact that you handle description just right 😉
Striking a happy medium with the amount of description a writer should provide isn’t easy. With my last novel, a fellow writer said she thought I had too much description, and yet, the editors of Writer’s Digest thought I needed more. Ya can’t please everyone. However, I do agree with you that writers should provide SOMETHING to help readers better imagine the characters.
Thank you Susan. I also got stuck on it with this last book since it was a time traveling book and I could t quite grasp the mc’s style or where she fit. Or where her father fit either.
As far as my understanding goes, the younger the audience, the less visual details you give them. For adults, you show it all. For middle graders, you leave most everything to their imagination. And again, I don’t doubt this really varies by adult genre too. Still, I don’t think a couple occasional descriptors will hurt, but I cringe every time someone stops in front of a mirror to examine their self. It can be handle without blatantly saying “This is how the character looks!”
Thank you for the background on character description and audience Crystal. I think we all have our happy places with character and reading and what is just right. This was my own interpretation of what intrigues me and what keeps me going. I also think some books warrant more description than others like time travel and historical settings.
It’s difficult to strike the balance with description. That’s a part of this craft that presents a huge challenge. I like some hints about the characters and more than eye color or hair. I really like to know the personality from how a character behaves and interacts with others in the story. Great post.
I am right there with you Lee. I like to picture them as if they were a friend or neighbor. Many times dialogue and gestures help too 🙂
I have so much trouble writing detailed descriptions, but I love to read them. I’m re-reading A Tale of Two Cities right now (maybe my 5th time?) and those descriptions are so amazing. I can feel Jerry Cruncher’s spikey hair. I’d love to be able to do that, but I also think it’s important for me to realize I’m no Charles Dickens.
Really interesting point! 🙂
Striking the right balance is key with regards to character description, You have to be careful not to give too much or too little and then hope the reader’s imagination can fill in the blanks to form an entire picture.
Thank you so much Michelle. I appreciate you stopping in today 🙂
Too little description can kill a good story just as easily as too much. A good writer can weave in all the elements needed to paint a clear picture without resorting to looks in the mirror, info dumps, or hair (color) tucked behind an ear or blown off a face.