Sometimes we all need a reminder about the basics of writing. Often, on this site, we see blogs about cleaning up your work, writing synopses, getting over writers’ block and being reminded to practice, practice and practice some more.
I avidly read blogs and articles about plot construction, planning and characterisation, and sometimes get inspiration from writers in real life. Here are some ideas, gleaned from a talk given by Yvonne Walus at The Author's Mouth meeting in May, which I’d like to share.
There is little point in providing a description of a place or a person who only appears once in the book and has little intrinsic value. There is a lot of value in describing a scene central to the plot to hook a reader.
For a moment to be powerful enough for the reader to remember it long after the book is finished, the description should include at least three of the five senses: sound, smell, taste, touch and vision. The reader has to connect physically with the scene or character.
Apart from the brief visual appearance of a character or place also comes the detail. Not as a block, not even in the first chapter, but fed in until the character has been built up to appear 3D. As much as we need a visual image of what the person might look like – and many articles say don’t overdo it, leave it to the reader to create their own physical image – we do need to know what sort of person are they. Here are some examples:
Athletic: do they swim, run? Or are they unfit and desk bound?
Healthy: do they smoke/drink, or eat well, fussy about what they put into their bodies or couldn’t care less? Clean/dirty or bitten finger nails.
Mannerisms: do they have any nervous gestures? Are they social or reclusive (how do they act at a party)? Do they smile? (If not, why not? Bad teeth, embarrassed?)
Emotional: how do they respond to death/bad news? Do they laugh/cry/withdraw? What about good news?
Are they vulnerable in any way? Do they have some physical impairment – sight, hearing, medical – that could impact on how they behave?
What do they wear/not wear: jewellery, scarves, hats?
How do they sound when they walk?
What is important to them?
In amongst these details are clues as to the type of person they might be. What their style might be. Bold jewellery on a woman might tell the reader something different to the woman who wears simple, plain jewellery. What is the message we understand when a man wears jewellery?
The other important message in building characters is about the things that are not there. Things you might take for granted a person might have? What is missing from their home/car/office? Photos, ornaments, computers or electronics? What is missing from their language? Swear words? Are their belongings. mannerisms and language a match to their behaviour and actions?
The more interesting the character, the more the reader wants to know about them.