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

Our September Author Interviews--9/6 Kathleen Valenti, 9/13 David Burnsworth, 9/20 Jeri Westerson, 9/27 Frances Brody. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

September Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/2--Anne Bannon, 9/9 WWK Bloggers, 9/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 9/23 Kait Carson, and on 9/30 Karen Borelli.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.” In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

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.

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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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Sharp a Fictional Character?

Looking from my study today I can only see to the near edge of the lake. Fog cloaks its surface and allows me to only sense the opposite shore based on the shading of distant greys. Stepping out on the deck I hear an occasional duck quack and can visualize mergansers fishing for breakfast. The beat of large wings moving from south to north sounds overhead, and I decide that an eagle has just flown by.

Should I choose, I could describe for you the mergansers in precise detail, relying on years of watching them. I could tell you that this time of year you can’t tell males from the females because in both sexes their heads are now muted red. I could describe their long beaks serrated with pointed tooth-like projections, the better to catch slippery fish with, My Dear. Or I could call them “sawbills” and let you draw your own picture.

Because I saw an eagle yesterday, I could speculate that the eagle I hear—but don’t see—is not fully mature, its head and tail lacking the telltale white. I could ruminate about how the process typically starts with a first white feather at around age three and takes two to four years to complete, when the head and tail are completely white.

Or I could simply tell you ducks are quacking on the lake and that I feel the air pressure increase with each wing beat as the unseen eagle flies overhead. You would probably picture a mallard for the duck and a mature bald eagle with snow white head and tail.

Does it matter if you picture the wrong kind of duck or eagle, and does the answer change if we’re talking about people instead of wildlife?

Yes, No and Maybe—at least by my preferences.

If it is really important for the reader to understand what the POV character is seeing, then by all means provide as much detail as possible. If the animal sets the stage, defines the location, then give enough specifics so an astute reader can place the action. If the ducks and eagle are an aside and their description may delay the action of the scene, then who cares if mergansers have webbed feet?

For me, the same is true for human characters. I like a broad brush that allows me to fill in my own details—to make my own picture of the character, even for the main characters. I get bored quickly and skip ahead when each new character is painted with a paragraph of detail. Give me a trait or two; I’ll do the rest. When I am jogging people’s memory about who I am, I often refer to myself as “the tall bald guy with the beard and ponytail.” Invariably, that is enough. If I were to try to disguise myself, all I need to do is wrap my ponytail over my head like a squirrel in the rain and cover my pate with a wig. No more Jim Jackson.

For minor characters, all I need when reading is enough to keep them straight. For a main character, feel free to work in a few pertinent facts along the way to help me fill out their picture, but heaven forbid you give them a feature totally conflicting with my personal projection of the character. If you do that, I might abandon your book right there and choose something else to read.

Needless to say, I don’t spend much of my leisure time reading Thomas Hardy and his ilk. What I’ve described is my preference in reading (and writing). What about you?

Jim

8 comments:

Jennifer Hillier said...

I'm with you on the broad brush. I like loosely sketched characters I can color in myself. Too much detail and I find myself working really hard to picture the characters exactly right, which takes me out of the story.

Great post!

E. B. Davis said...

I agree Jim. Critique partners have criticized my lack of detail, but I am loathed to provide them. It's for the same reason I hate music videos. Let me conjure the lyrics in my own way--having them spoonfed, sometimes in obnoxious ways, is just a commercial venture. Having an author stuff his character down my thoat diminishes the work. There must be at least 50 thousand versions of Kinsey Millhone because she is ours.

Pauline Alldred said...

I like my characters to show who they are through action. We think and say many things when we're trying out new ideas and discard these ideas without a qualm. That's okay in real life but it slows down fiction.

I prefer the broad brush for looks so the reader can decide.

Your nature descriptions would fit where nature or the land is a character as in Emerson or Grapes of Wrath. Just my opinion.

Warren Bull said...

I too, agree with Jim. I think times have changed since Dashiell Hammet spent the opening paragraph of THE MALTESE FALCON describing Sam Spade in detail. (He looked nothing like Humphrey Bogart.)

I don't like description that come after I have formed my mental image of a character.

Sherry said...

Amen to this. Hemingway did it best, I think. I would much rather have my mind fill in the blanks. Jillian

Kaye George said...

I prefer not to describe my MCs at all! I'd love for the readers to put themselves into the story and BE the MC. But, alas, that doesn't work. At least, according to my crit partners. That's a goal I strive for, though, and would like to write a piece like that some day. For now, I'll do descriptions.

I hate the one paragraph of detail the first time we meet a character, but many well-known and well-read authors do this. New ones probably can't get away with this.

Patg said...

I, too, dislike too much description of characters--heck, scenery discription is generally a skip for me--but I'm talking about the physical. Mental, can be very interesting if it is spread out over the story and clicks sharply with the plot. Before you accuse me of prefering character driven stories, I should tell you I find angst boring.
Patg

Pauline Alldred said...

Last Saturday I attended a conference with an agents' panel. Writers could submit their first pages for a public critique and reasons for agent rejection. The agents most often took both literary and genre fiction.

No agent rejected a first page because the character described his surroundings. The agents appeared to like knowing where they were--a ship, bar, office, etc.

One writer gave a paragraph or two on the weather. The description was accepted because the writing and images were good and the setting was Nigeria. One agent commented that the weather description was so much better than the usual weather beginnings.

I don't like much description and I skip it when I'm reading but I have been criticized for not giving readers a clear picture of where they are.

Just thought I'd add my recent experience with agents.