Writing Tip — Character Descriptions, Part 1

workplace-1245776_1280 This post on Almost an Author has so much great advice I could probably spend a month discussing it. But I don’t want to bore you, so I will just cover a few points.

TMD: Too Much Description

When I first started writing, I wanted my readers to see my characters exactly as I did. I would describe him or her in great detail. This was a mistake for several reasons. First, no amount of description will make a reader imagine my characters in the exact way that I do. Our imaginations are too vast for that. Second, every reader brings his or her own experiences to a story and those effect how the readers sees the character.

I have a character named Gabe. If you were bullied by a Gabe, that experience can influence how you picture my character and perhaps see him with negative, physical features. If you have an uncle Gabe who’s the greatest guy in the world, that real-life Gabe can “bleed” into the character and maybe give him some of the real person’s physical characteristics.

As Ms. Betz writes, I should provided descriptions that point out a character’s most important features, ones that are unique and sets him apart from other characters.

My main character Junior has six siblings and lives with two cousins. That’s a lot of kids to keep straight. One device that helps is that five of them are mixed race while four are Caucasian. Emphasizing how their various ethnic backgrounds appear in their looks distinguishes the kids from each other. It also underlines the family’s outsider status in a county that’s ninety percent Caucasian.

Next time I’ll write about another major problem I have with character descriptions: dumping.

Writing Tip — Writing in Time — July and Independence Day

sparkler-839806_1280America’s birthday provides a fertile field of ideas for a writer. The celebration can serve as a backdrop for exploring America’s history, politics from local to national, and values. Since I have mostly lived in small towns, I have experienced the holiday with all the charm and wackiness inherent in a celebration which isn’t trying to do anything more than salute our nation and entertain neighbors.

Because of holiday parties, themes of family and friendship can be addressed during the Fourth of July. The movie Junior Bonner depicts the fracturing of a family during the local celebration in Arizona.

With family parties in mind, July, as well as June and August, can also be the setting for a family reunion. Comedy or tragedy, a family reunion provides limitless avenues for a writer to explore with themes of love and hate, retalliation and redemption and forgiveness, secrets buried and secrets unearthed.

thermometer-1917500_1280My own novel The Truth and Other Strangers is set in July, shortly after Independence Day, primarily because it is more plausible for the kids to succeed in the con they are pulling if they aren’t in school. But I also like July for it’s extreme weather. In my novel, the weather is very hot and humid, adding another layer of oppression to what my main character already feels from his family and the people in his county.

The heat, humid or drought-producing, makes July a great setting for crime fiction. The quote below came from 1953 science fiction movie It Came From Outer Space, but it seems better suited to a crime movie:

“Did you know … more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once — lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety -two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”

Hot weather seems to fray nerves and stoke tempers until characters snap and commit crimes they haven’t had the courage or anger to perpetrate during more pleasant weather.

The summer months are also vacation months. Vacations offer as much potential for storylines as family reunions. A vacation forces characters into new, unusual, or even dangerous situations, which can be written with any attitude from low-comedy to high tragedy. A road trip can mirror the internal journey the character takes, so it works as a symbol of change.

How do you experience July where you live and what stories does it suggest to you?

Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

bunting-1486969_1280Tomorrow is Independence Day. Write about something you love about your country.

I love living in the country, near a small-town. I enjoy getting to know people because we see each other all the time at the store, at school, at church.

I also love the nature of my country. It’s so big that it holds an irresistible invitation for adventure.

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