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A Look at Masterful Character Description Part 3

Character description is a crucial part of fiction, yet, it appears that few writers give it much attention. And that’s a shame. What I’m hoping to emphasize in this long series on masterful writing is to drive home this truth: every word matters. (If you’ve missed the last two posts, start with this one here.)

While gushing in a first draft, we will often write the first things that come to mind, and those things are often cliché, boring, overused, and unimaginative. This is particularly seen in our descriptions of characters and setting.

If you need to write that way just to get your scene sketched in, that’s fine. Just don’t settle for sloppy or blah description because you think that’s the best you can do. It’s not.

I get the feeling, when reading some novels, that the writer just wants to “get it over with”—meaning, the description of whatever—as if the task were akin to enduring a dentist’s probing for cavities. Continue Reading…

A Look at Masterful Character Description Part 2

Let me begin this week’s post, a continuation of looking at masterful character description, by lifting this paragraph from last week’s post:

Description is more than what the eye sees. It involves making judgments, coming to conclusions, forming impressions. Since our descriptions must be filtered through our POV character’s mind and heart, instead of thinking of description as a laundry list of items (hair color, eye color, shoe brand), they should reveal just as much, if not more, about our POV character as the person (or place or animal or food—anything) being described.

I repeat this to be emphatic about the importance of taking the time to both know your characters thoroughly as well utilizing description powerfully and deliberately.

In other words, don’t waste space or your reader’s precious time by writing ineffective description. Make it count. Make it evocative. Make it fresh and revealing. Continue Reading…

A Look at Masterful Character Description

We began this series on masterful writing last week by taking a look at James Lee Burke’s wonderful character descriptions. All too often writers—beginning and seasoned—skimp on description. Or if they do manage a few lines, they’re uninspired, boring, or laden with stereotype. Good writing—masterful writing—takes hard work.

But it’s not just effort that’s involved. More than effort is needed to craft masterful description. Description is more than what the eye sees. It involves making judgments, coming to conclusions, forming impressions. Since our descriptions must be filtered through our POV character’s mind and heart, instead of thinking of description as a laundry list of items (hair color, eye color, shoe brand), they should reveal just as much, if not more, about our POV character as the person (or place or animal or food—anything) being described.

Think how differently you might approach describing a character who walks into a room if you focused more on the one witnessing than the one being described.

I mentioned in the last post that you must truly know your characters through and through. You must create deep, rich, complex characters full of experience, opinions, tastes, beliefs, sensibilities, prejudices, wounds, knowledge, and so much more. If you don’t, you can’t mine deeply into description fully in POV. Continue Reading…

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