Guest post by Gary Henry!
Gary dropped by to do a guest post for us today.
Thanks for being here Gary and what perfect timing,
I am off to make dinner so the blog is all yours!
First, thank you, Miss Karen, you lovely and talented thing, for the opportunity to bloviate on one of my pet peeves in reading indie books – lack of character description in otherwise fine stories – something you were NOT guilty of in your sweet romance “The Good Dr. Grant.”
“The Third Dimension of Characters.”
Okay, check out the following conversation about my friend Jonesy’s potential new girlfriend – Tiffany. See what kind of mental picture of her you can get from what he tells me.
“Gary, I just met the most fabulous woman. She’s like – my ideal woman! I’m in love!”
“That’s great, Jonesy. Tell me about her.”
“Well, first, she’s an English major. But she’s also a black belt in karate!”
“Wow. Impressive. I guess you better watch your butt.”
“Yeah! And she loves dogs. She goes for long runs with her Airedale, Bubba.”
“Huh. What’s her name?”
“Tiffany. I love that name. Anyway, she fights in these karate tournaments, then writes them up for karate magazines.”
“How’d you meet her?”
“At the vet. I brought Charlie in for his shots, and we sat next to Tiffany and Bubba the Airedale in the waiting room. She asked me what breed Charlie is, and I told her German Shepherd mix and we just kept talking.”
“That’s great Jonesy. What’d you talk about?”
“Everything! Philosophy – she says kindness is the ultimate virtue. Isn’t that strange for someone who writes about fighting?”
“Maybe not. What else did she say?”
“Well she said I must be a nice person because Charlie is so happy and friendly, and dogs never lie. And Charlie was crazy about her; and her dog, Bubba, liked me. So we really hit it off. We’re going out tomorrow night! Tiffany says when you meet someone you like, there’s no sense messing about – she said that, ‘messing about.’ I love that!”
“That’s great, Jonesy; good job.”
So there’s the conversation. Now what did we learn about Tiffany? We know some things about her from what she does, and we know some things about her from what she says – or at least what Jonesy says Tiffany does and says.
She’s kind, she’s action-oriented, she loves dogs, she’s outgoing, and she’s a writer. No wonder Jonesy is smitten.
But we still don’t have a complete picture of Tiffany, do we? And if you’re Jonesy’s friend are you satisfied with what he told you? I’m not. There’s something else I’d like to know.
“So Jonesy, what does she look like?”
“She’s gorgeous! She’s slim and pale, with this wild red hair and freckles and green eyes like a cornfield in June –”
“You’re a poet, Jonesy.”
“You should’ve seen her, Gar! Spectacular. She’s wearing these blue bib overalls over a white t-shirt, and has these cool sandals–”
So now we have a clearer picture of Tiff – in three dimensions. We get this picture, courtesy of Jonesy, because we know what Tiff does, what she says, and what she looks like – the three dimensions of character.
And that brings me to my pet peeve as a reader and book reviewer.
Too many of us writers present our characters in two dimensions only – what they say and what they do. If you’ve given me an interesting character, I want to know what the character looks like.
Some will disagree with me. I read a blog post once where the author said to leave character description out. It only slows down the action of the story, opines he. For an example, he offered a Damon Runyon story in which the only description of a thug was “big.”
Well, that’s ok for Damon Runyon. Maybe his prose style is snappy enough to get away with that. But how much better would that story have been if we could see that the thug had a glint in his little eyes just shy of psychotic, under a Neanderthal forehead and above a nose that could’ve come off Mt. Rushmore. With enormous shoulders that had his cheap gray prison suit begging for mercy.
I’m sure Damon could have described the thug better than me, if he’d only taken the time. And his snappy story would be more colorful still.
Here’s how Len Deighton, who I think we can all agree knows something about writing, describes one of his characters, Sir Robert Benson in “SS/GB.” It’s this great alternate history thriller, published in 1978, by Ballantine Books, New York, in which the Nazis won World War II and occupied Great Britain.
He smiled. It was the sort of smile that men give when they have had very little experience of smiling. His face was hard and granite-like, except for the tiny veins in his cheeks and nose. His hair was gray and long enough to curl at the ears and neck. His forehead was shallow; his bushy eyebrows near to his hair-line. And beneath the curly eyebrows his eye sockets were deep and dark-rimmed so that his eyes sometimes disappeared into dark shadow. (page 115).
This description, combined with Deighton’s masterful dialogue and physical business makes Sir Robert a fully-realized three-dimensional character. And he’s not even a main character.
But he is a vivid character, and part of the reason most of Deighton’s 41 books were best-sellers, including his first novel, The Ipcress File, published 50 years ago this year. The book was made into a film in 1965, starring Michael Caine.
I bet if you take a look at your own favorite books, you’ll see the characters are richly described. Robert E. Howard’s Conan the barbarian – dark scarred features with blazing eyes of volcanic blue. Ian Fleming’s James Bond — cruelly handsome.
Have you ever seen those television news shows where people’s faces are blurred out to protect their identity? That’s what we get when there’s no description. Certainly as readers we can use our imaginations to picture the character. Description just gives us something to work with.
I’m pretty sure whether we describe our characters or not, we all have a good picture of them in our own heads. I think it’s impossible for us as authors to imagine characters without imagining what they look like.
Let us see what you see, and present your characters in all three dimensions – what they say, what they do, and what they look like. Minor characters too – maybe not in the same detail as the stars – but if they’re important enough to be in the book, they’re important enough for us to get at least a hint of what they look like.
What if you don’t see anything when you imagine your characters?
You’re a writer. Make something up.
# # #
That was great Gary. See I am guilty of not describing my secondary characters. So you think we should describe everyone? Even if they only have a small part? I mean I can see it if it needed to be there. Something like, “He looked over at the short woman in the flower dress before turning his complete attention to his wife.”
Like that if it’s just an unknown person standing there that has gotten our character’s attention?
Stop by Gary’s blog http://honestindiebookreviews.wordpress.com/
And you can pick up a copy of his book here! I read it. It’s good!
A sexy super-powered paranormal fantasy thriller for e-book readers,
available at Amazon.com ~ http://amzn.to/L65dwz