If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th. In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Writing Character Descriptions




A new writer recently joined my local writers group. She is enthusiastic and very happy to have found us. One of the brief things she wrote showed promise, however what she read next was the beginning chapter of her romance book set in the old west. It had what I considered a problem. She went overboard in describing the heroine leaving little to the reader’s imagination. It was even worse with the hero, who was incredibly handsome with rippling muscles, etc. The fact that it started in a brothel and this author had submitted it to a Christian publisher, had us laughing, but no one wanted to dampen a new member’s enthusiasm with criticism of the character descriptions. Maybe it is what readers of romance books want. I don’t know because I haven’t read a romance since I was quite young and in love with the idea of love. I know that a member of one of my book clubs would have been rolling her eyes and making acerbic comments. She hated a thriller by David Baldacci because the leading character was drop dead gorgeous. She hates any book with beautiful women.

In this same book club we just discussed Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison. It was a reread for me and confusing as it might seem, I was also reading his second in the series Eleven Pipers Piping. His protagonist is an Episcopalian priest named Father Tom Christmas.  He much prefers being called just vicar or Tom. So you can see Benison plays up the Christmas aspect in his titles. Tom is a widower with a nine year old daughter. He recently applied for and got the position of vicar in a small English village to get away from a bigger city after his wife had been murdered (all back story).  He moved to this small village so his daughter would be safer. Of course, in cozy mysteries, we know that murder happens even in small towns.  

I enjoyed both books and liked the main character very much. The housekeeper was a real treat. Scattered throughout the book her letters to her mother put a whole new light on what is going on in town and with the new vicar. But while thinking about describing characters, I realized I had no idea what color hair or eyes Tom Christmas has. I know he’s probably somewhere in his thirties considering his background. I know he’s reasonably attractive because various women are attracted to him, but when it’s pointed out, he shrugs it off saying it’s the vicar affect. Some women are attracted to the dog collar vicars wear. His daughter has dark hair, but so did  his wife, so that doesn’t help. I know details about other characters, but none are overdone. 

His housekeeper is an important character, but I don’t know exactly what she looks like, either. She’s older, she’s a gossip, she is very opinionated and that’s all the reader needs to know to picture this woman in their own mind.  Another minor character is the Japanese wife of the owner of the restaurant. She is an artist, has long dark hair and is slim. It’s enough.

It’s not that Benison doesn’t use any character descriptions. He does, but they’re minimal and sprinkled throughout like a lightly seasoned food offering. For instance, Eric Swan has bushy red eyebrows like fox tails.  Enid Pattimore, the town hypochondriac, wears these little plugs in her nose because she has a lot of nose bleeds. We know she’s older because her son is middle-aged.  Incidentally, because of the titles, my book club discussed the fact that there would only be twelve books in the series. Since the murderer of Tom’s wife hadn’t been discovered yet in either book, we thought it might not happen until the twelfth book. I said it would be someone with the last name of Partridge. I doubt that he lives in a pear tree, though.


In my opinion, the best written books go lightly on character descriptions, and spread them throughout the book subtly. It’s not that the writer shouldn’t describe hair color or eyes, but they shouldn’t come in a big blob all at once. I’ll gag if it’s something like: Brad drove up in a Porsche. He was tall, dark and handsome with piercing black eyes that mesmerized all the women he met. His voice was seductive. His muscles rippled and his skin was a golden tan showing he worked outdoors. He had a tattooed heart on his upper arm with the initals S.E.X.  You can see why I don’t write romances. It was hard writing this description without laughing. By the way, I couldn't find a handsome guy with a Porsche so this will have to do. Couldn't find one with those initials, either.

As a reader, how much description do you want of characters?


As a writer, how much description do you use when describing your characters?

16 comments:

Gayle Carline said...

I prefer my descriptions interspersed with activity. It's kind of fun, over the period of the book, to see a character run his hand over his short blond hair, then later have him lower his 6'1" frame to look at something.

I really hate the character looking in the mirror and describing themselves.

Gloria Alden said...

I really agree with you, Gayle. I think the body language or activity tells more about a character than the descriptions. I think writers who write in first person use the mirror more often than writers who write in third person.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Good post, Gloria. I'm with you and Gayle. Descriptions need to come early and be woven effortlessly into the story so they don't stop the action.

Shari Randall said...

Gloria, I had to laugh when you mentioned your friend who doesn't read books with "drop dead gorgeous" characters. If you read a lot of thrillers (I dip in that pool sometimes) the women are always drop dead gorgeous - especially the damsel in distress or the nuclear scientist who occasionally wears glasses to show how serious she is. Give your friend a high five from me!

Carla Damron said...

I'm anti-gorgeous people, too. I find them harder to relate to--prefer to see a flaw. Because sometimes I have those.

Gloria Alden said...

I'll have to email my friend so she can read what you have to say, Shari. I think the book she hated was a thriller. I don't read a lot of them, either. I prefer cozies or suspense mysteries, although it seems if they're romantic suspense the characters are quite attractive, too.

Carla, I don't find the gorgeous people easy to relate to, either. Maybe it's because I don't know any and I certainly have never been one of them. :-) It's not that I don't know attractive people, but I find those most attractive to me are from an inner beauty that makes them physically attractive, too.

Warren Bull said...

For me the same goes for clothing. I don't know a chic shoe from a Salvation Army bargain. Designer names are wasted on my. Maybe its my Y chromosome.

Patg said...

I'm not much for long descriptions on anything. They stop the forward motion of the story. Blended in with action is best, IMHO, however, when someone new is introduced, it shows skillful writing to give two or three details about the person as the aquaintence is made. Long house, garden, clothes, and street directions get too over done as well.
I don't read thrillers anymore for that exact reason: the heroes are all too smart, overly handsome, wealthy beyond Warren Buffet, and every woman who comes in contact with them drop down for sex in a NY second. Gross me out!!!
And how about those romance novels with sex scenes descriptions that amount to long drown out versions of the words Oh and Ah. Honestly, ladies, insulting.
Warren Bull, about the Y chromosome. Ever hear the theory that it is really only a broken X?
:)
Patg

Anonymous said...

I'm with you about the clothes, Warren. I recently reread a 'famous author' book and was shocked by all the (seemingly) never-ending descriptions about what EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER, no matter how minor, was wearing. Personally I could care less that someone had on a 'designer du jour' charcoal pencil skirt - especially when that character is never seen again.

KM said...

I, too, like the descriptions interspersed naturally.

Somewhere I read that the original instructions to authors in Britiain for an early line of romances included the direction that the physical description of the heroine be minimal, so that every reader could depict herself in that role.

E. B. Davis said...

In 1st person POV, it's hard to give the MC's description, other than to have another character come up and say, "Gee, I love your short, curly brown hair. Have you been working out? You look foxy for a 44 year old! And how tall are you?"

In 3rd person POV, too many authors wax into omniscient POV and describe the character as if someone else is observing them. Doesn't matter if it is 1st or 3rd, if the book is written in that character's POV, you can't give a description of the character, as if there is also a narrator.

Those descriptions have to be slipped in carefully if the description is absolutely necessary. Not sure I really care if someone is blond or brunette. It may be better to let it up to the reader.

Rhonda Lane said...

I think it's more fun for the reader to imagine a version of main characters. Leaving description open to interpretation allows for all sorts of discussions of "casting" on social media, which also works as promotion.

BTW, sexual content doesn't fly in Christian publishing. I know people who gravitate toward the Christian publishers to avoid stories with sex and swearing. There are Christian romances, but they're what's known as "sweet romances" with a "low sensuality level."

Note the buzzwords I picked up at my local RWA chapter meetings. ;) The RWA chapters are closer than the SinC chapters.

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, I don't know designer clothes from K-Mart clothes, either. So It's not the Y-chromosome, it's lack of caring.

Pat, I do think that's more common in thrillers, at least in the few I've read.

Anoymous, minimal description seems more appropriate for a very minor walk on character especially when it comes to clothes.

KM, that's an interesting fact. I've never heard that, but it does seem the British mystery writers don't go overboard with description.

E.B. I think writing description can be even harder to do than writing dialog. It's like seasoning a dish, lightly done is always better than a heavy hand.

Rhonda, I know I'm often disappointed when I see a movie made of a good book and the lead characters look nothing like I imagined the book character. And, yes, that's why our writer's group all laughed when she said this author had submitted it to a Christian Publishing house, but we didn't do it in a mean way. We had her laughing with us. I like the buzz words, Rhonda.

Anonymous said...

Okay. I confess to being that friend, intolerant of anything gorgeous! Give me freckles, wild hair, and even a troubling zit once in a while, then I can believe in them!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Gloria, sorry I'm late chiming in. Was editing all day and the day ended before my to do list ended.

I tend to be minimalist but give people a general feel for the character picking a characteristic of two that seem to embody that person.

Nervous tics with fingers gnawed to the quick.
Laugh lines etched by a backhoe.

Or something like that. Give me more than a line or two of description and I’m skipping the rest of the paragraph and getting on with the story – unless, as you suggest, it is ladled out a dipper at a time.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I liked your descriptions in Bad Policy. I think you did an excellent job of it - just enough, but not too much and unique descriptions as your examples here showed.