Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Character





The sixth movie in the Fast and Furious franchise opened this weekend.  I didn't go on opening day but I am not only planning to see it, I'm a devoted fan of all the movies. (I revved up for the new one by watching ALL five previous ones!) 

I adore Vin Diesel (and have since Boiler Room--which if you haven't seen, stop reading now, and go rent) and fast cars. 




Now that The Rock is in the movies, well they're even better.


Surprised? Don't be.  Most people have little oddities that make them much more interesting than what they look like.

So yes, I read the poem of Richard Blanco and at the same time I love the spoken word/hip/hop work of Ice-T and Jay-Z and a couple other guys who are going to be horribly embarrassed to find out I'm a fan.


What does this mean to you, other than recommendations for films and poems?

When you describe characters, particularly as you're introducing them, think about what makes them interesting. Generally it's NOT the color of their eyes or hair, and unless YOU are a one-dimensional reader, their hotness (is hotness a word?)

So "blonde bombshell" fails unless you mean color coded ammunition. Sexy, hunky, and all that stuff does too.

An unpublished manuscript from a client featured a character who waxed his trailer. More than anything else that told the readers everything we needed to know about the guy.  Of course he was VERY hot too, but that wasn't the first thing we learned about him.

Introducing characters is like introducing people.  You wouldn't say "Hello, I'd like to introduce you to Janet Reid, she's short, myopic and drinks a lot of Scotch on the job" would you?  I think it would be much more interesting and important to know that I love Vin Diesel, and hip hop, and the poems of Richard Blanco. In other words, what makes you your character not your attributes.

18 comments:

Kitty said...

it's NOT the color of their eyes or hair

As a reader, I couldn't care less about those things unless they're germane to the story. Details take time to process. The more details the more time it takes me, the reader, to develop that picture in my mind. A character who waxes his trailer is an instant picture. He may be worth a thousand words; just don't write them. Show, don't tell.

Christine Monson said...

Your right, the details are important. And yes, I agree with show, don't tell (sometimes) and that the reader doesn't need to be dog piled with a block of information; however, I loathe when the physical details are spread thin throughout the entire book leaving the reader with an incomplete picture until the last half of the book. By then, I've forgotten the first details or I've created an image that doesn't fit the new factors. A lot of the latest books and debut authors are doing this, and this p***es me off. I want the details in the first chapter (at least by the second) so I can make a connection and live the story with the character. In other words, STOP distancing the reader from the MC!

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

"Waxed his trailer?" I've never heard it called that.

And yes, my kids tell me hotness is a word. Reminds me of the Brautigan poem "Nice Ass"

There is so much lost
and so much gained
in these words.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

The problem with straight up physical descriptions, especially of beautiful people, is they don't match up with my idea of beauty.

A very (VERY) famous thriller writer went into excruciating detail about the MC's girlfriend's "sexy" outfit. He apparently has a fetish for waitresses at catered events. I had the same outfit, right down to the black flat-heeled Mary Janes.

Okay, now, for the rest of the book as she is put in peril, all I can picture is myself pouring coffee for minimum wage, in a room full of people. It was really hard for me to care about this chick.

Laundry list physical descriptions are the worst. Notice how the hero is always "five-feet-ten-and-one-half-inches?" Like that half inch is a quirky character flaw.

I like just enough to establish the outlines and then I can color it in with my own version of sexy, scary, erudite, dauntless, etc.

As always, you nailed it. Why some characters jump off the page and others are just yawners.

And how could you not love Vin Diesel and the Rock?

Terri

brenda said...

I've love those movies. As I am often only one of the three women in the theater watching, I assumed I was alone in my love. NIce to meet others. As for characterization - I prefer revealing who they are, quirks and flaws, through behavior, like a woman whose spice cabinet is not alphabetized...

Kitty said...

One of the best examples I've read of concise writing is Phil Brody's witty debut novel The Holden Age of Hollywood. It was awarded the Bronze Medal for General Fiction in the 2013 Independent Publishers Book Awards and won the Best New Fiction category in the 2012 USA Book News Awards.

I first read it on my Kindle. I loved it so much that I bought two copies and gave one away. I don't recall even a hint of filler in the whole book. You get the flavor and feel without the clutter.

Example: Lackey dresses daily for the job he wants, not the job he has. His suits boast designer tags his paychecks clearly cannot support. Shoes always shined. Cologne offends. Even his never-a-strand-out-of-place haircut pissed me off from the moment we grudgingly shook hands.

Ellipsis Flood said...

To me, the most important part of character description is that it's, well, important. I don't need every single detail, but not having even the vaguest idea of how the character looks like is frustrating.

Also, hands off the subjective adjectives, unless it's the POV character doing the describing.

BPatterson said...

I adore Vin Diesel. I'm anxiously awaiting the new Pitch Black movie, as well as getting to see FF6. :D

And yes, the Rock was a BRILLIANT addition.

I can't wait to find out how they're going to address the long-lost-love-turned-antagonist issue. Especially because I really liked the rapport he built with the cop over losing someone you loved. That scene when he got his necklace back is one of my favorites. :>

Slow Hands said...

Great post! I think thin characterization also becomes a problem when writers stick with traits that have become shorthand for certain kinds of characters (i.e., librarians are meek, bespectacled, and fastidious, and salesmen are slick and fast-talking).

No one expects the librarian to keep a bottle of tequila in her desk, which is part of what makes it interesting.

NotaWarriorPrincess said...


I think I'd be FASCINATED to be introduced to a short myopic Scotch-drinking shark. Terrified, but fascinated.

I like Guy Noir, Private Eye's description of a character's clothing: "If brevity is the soul of wit, her outfit was positively hilarious."

I HATE: "woman character = hair color" and "woman character's hair color = red" and "red haired woman character = femme fatale that author need not describe any further."

DeadlyAccurate said...

This comment has actually rekindled my interest in writing again. And I woke up thinking of one of my earlier characters. I had plot ideas!

Marsha Sigman said...

YES! Thank you.

I can hold an in depth, intelligent conversation regarding the financial state of our country...and rap along with Eminem in the car...on the way to my kid's soccer practice.

I have layers. As do all great characters.

Janet Reid said...

Carla, you have no idea how glad I am to hear that!

Michael Seese said...

I think your love of Vin Diesel, and hip hop, and the poems of Richard Blanco make you A character.

Jenni Wiltz said...

You've just catapulted to the top of my query list, should I ever have something that lines up with your interests. I love these movies, but I also wrote a 40-page paper on Gravity's Rainbow for school, so I don't take you-know-what for my shameless Fast and Furious addiction.

As for the whole physical description thing, I skewered an author in a review once for doing this. The main character looked in a mirror (facepalm) and described herself as brown-haired and tired-looking. Based on that, the character could look like anyone from Laura Bush to Angelina Jolie. That's how you know it's revision time.

L.K. Donovan said...

As long as the physical description is woven in naturally, and would be what the POV character would observe, then I'm all for it. A superficial character would probably pick apart someone's appearance, while a woman who just survived a car wreck is unlikely to notice the EMT's silky black hair, how it sweeps across the broad expanse of his uber-manly forehead.

What drives me batty is when I see something like this every few pages: "Brody stared at her with his dark blue eyes." Unless Brody has multiple sets of eyes, I'll assume he's using the same ones as last time.

donnaeverhart.com said...

Sigh. And again. Back to question what the hell I'm writing. Your posts make me revisit every damn sentence I've put down b/c I think I wrote my MC has short hair, like Twiggy.

Dawn Simon said...

Great post! Thank you for writing it!