Saturday, September 25, 2010

When the writing gets tough

So I'm facing a problem. What kind of problem, eh? A problem that is holding me back from writing my story. "Oh no!" Ok I'll be serious now.

Thanks to the wonderful Great Blogging Experiment (or excelente as I keep saying in my head)(don't know why I shared that with you)(imagine if we blogged everything we say in our heads) I should probably start over...... so much for being serious, whoops. 

Thanks to the wonderful Great Blogging Experiment yesterday, I became aware of many weak spots in my writing. I'm grateful for the amount of useful information everyone delivered. It was like spending a semester in class, but gaining that many tools in one day! 

I've tried to write four different books out of my whole 21 years of living (I think I refer to my age too much) and I've realized out of all those pages of work I've never described what my characters look like. Not once. I always, over-detail, what they are like, but never what color their hair is, or eyes, or body shape, or choice of clothes. I never mentioned if they wore glasses, or put gel in their hair, or even if they combed their hair at all. Maybe the whole doin' your hair thing is not that important, but I at least should know this. As I've learned that you should know everything about your character, even if it doesn't get in the story.

I never truly thought about writing their appearance because I always pictured them in my head as I wrote. Plus, I've always had this belief that whatever you write about shouldn't be fully described so the reader can have their own version. I wouldn't describe what a monster looks like because what you imagine in your head is a lot more scarier. I know I'm wrong, though I'm still stuck. How do you describe a character without revealing too much? Sigh....


Lettuce Head


  1. It was actually a very enlightening experiment, wasn’t it? And I think most of us have learned a lot from each other, which is fantastic. And this is a good point – I see my characters clearly in my head, but rarely bother to describe their appearance too much. Instead, I try to portray their feelings. You’ve got me thinking now . . . thank you :)
    The enigmatic, masked blogger strikes again

  2. Haha, you're in my boat now! Hopefully we come across a good point of view :)

  3. Hey, I'm 21 too :-)

    I generally have other characters describe something about the character in question (I.e. "I never noticed he had green eyes before.") and leave little clues throughout the story.

    I try to stay away from the descriptive paragraph. (She stood 5ft 2 inches tall, kept her blonde hair trimmed short and all-business. Her ice-chip blue eyes earned her the nick name Ice Maiden...) One day I might try it, but not for any of the books I'm busy with.

    To me, the secret stays in subtlety...

  4. Go us :)

    Please do stay away from those descriptive paragraphs. They absolutely annoy me because it's compressing the character and that's not at all enjoyable. I believe in your secret. Keep writing with it.

  5. I went to a conference last week and presented a pb to an agent. "I" was the main character in the rhyming book...She asked me who "I" old "I" was...Who was "I's" best friend...I didn't have a clue...She said I had a nice poem....needed to work on character development. LOL...

  6. It's sooo hard to describe characters. I wish there were a way to pull that mental pic out of my head and paste it onto the page!

  7. I don't usually do a lot of description for my characters. I'll do a few key "appearance markers," (think Harry Potter-- he has black messy hair, green eyes, a lighting scar, and that's about all we get) but not fully describe everything about them. Like you said, the reader usually forms a basic picture anyway in their head. I just give them a little guidance. :)

    Good luck with your current wip! I'm sure you'll figure out a way to make it work.

  8. I think I agree to the point about knowing as much about your character as possible. When it comes to physical description I know I often fall way short there. My "character sheets" often contain little more than a brief line about a character's appearance, just enough to make sure I'm consistent if I happen to refer to something. In fact, now I think about it, I really should nail my characters down a bit more. Bad me! But I digress...

    But when it comes to what to put down on the page, yeah, paragraphs of description are death to the story IMHO. I try to put as little as possible, and critters occasionally comment that they'd like a bit more physical description to help them visualise the scene.

    My touchstone here is to think about what would catch the attention of the POV character. If it makes sense that they'd notice a particular detail at a particular time, then throw it in. If not, then don't. (That same argument goes for setting too.)

    However, that does need to be balanced by the demands of the story. For example, Shallee's suggestion of "appearance markers" helps the reader keep track of who's who, which is important.

  9. I balance this line, too--except that I started out over describing their appearances. ;P I don't know if you've read Harry Potter (because some people don't) but I always like to think of Tonks as the ideal way to describe someone. Everyone in the world knows what she looks like (Crazy pink, spiked hair, tall and thin) but Rowling doesn't describe her much. We all have our visions, just like you said, but with enough to make her real to us, too.

    Thank you for the beautiful comment over at my place. I truly appreciate it and I'm looking forward to getting to know you. Take care & keep writing!

  10. Sharon - Oh gosh, haha. Now you know where to start, at least, to get your character developed correctly. Maybe ask yourself more questions too. Good luck! :)

    Kittie - I'm right there with you! Maybe that'll be created in the future but for now we gotta work for it.

    Shallee - I love your suggestion for appearance markers. Thanks for the tip, I had never considered that. Everyone read Shallee's comment!

    Botanist - Hey, we all fall short in some area. What's cool is we're able to help each other out, as you are helping me! Thank you for your tip, Botanist. I should start paying attention to what my character would notice. That would definitely help distinction.

    L.T. Elliot - The funny thing about Harry Potter and I is that I've seen every movie, yet haven't read the books. What kind of writer am I! Don't judge :) Thanks for such a good point using Tonks. If Rowling can get away with it, I sure can! And no problem with the comment, your post was truly wonderful. You take care too.

  11. I used to go into too much detail about the main character's appearance, but then I started to realize that while it can help complete character development, it can also add unnecessary clutter. Everything you write should advance something. If it doesn't matter to the story or to our understanding of who your character really is, probably don't need to tell us the color of their eyes. On the other hand, if there is something about your character's appearance that might help us understand how others approach her or how she presents herself to the world, then it's probably important to mention.

  12. Very good advice, C.N. Nevets! You're so right. I should only give details if it's important to the story/character. I have lots to think about...No, write about! Thank you, really.

  13. I have this problem too. Its a crit I get a lot. To describe their facial features and such. It is so hard. I'm even terrible at this in real life. As long as I can remember, friends and fam always made fun of me for this. Example.
    Someone: what did they look like?
    Me *making hand gestures*: they had a nose and eyes.
    I kind of pick whatever thing sticks out the most and say that. Stupid right. Maybe this is how I can approach my characters. Pick the feature that stands out the most and force myself to actually describe it. Its a start.


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