Thread: Writing Process
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Old May 21 2009, 01:07 PM   #18
Journeywoman Healer
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Join Date: Nov 2004
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Default Re: Writing Process

Not precisely. I take my cues from Tim, who admitted that with Mara Jade, the only descriptors he really had for himself were red-gold hair, green eyes, and a "dancer's build." That way the audience was free to picture more or less what they want. For me, I try to stick to what matters for the story--Elaine notices Val's eyes because he wears sunglasses even indoors and the shade of his eye color is a hint at his non-humanity. Alan is the "looker" who tends to judge on initial appearance, so he notes what Nadia and Elaine are wearing, their height, whether or not they're 'pretty' (Nadia, with her 'boho' clothes and loose braid is an initial yes, Elaine with her yanked-back hair and nonuniform uniform isn't), and in Elaine's case that's she's scarred down the right side of her face and neck (and presumably that side of her body, HUGE character issue for her.) With Alan I particularly don't want to go into TOO much detail besides gray eyes, black hair, and "tall and handsome." Mostly because everyone's take on handsome is a bit different, and I want the reader free to project a bit. (He does get nice hands, but that's my own fetish, so.)

For me, wandering into detail on physical characteristics that aren't relevant to the plot starts to border on anal. For starters, it's hard to do--I write limited 3rd POV so unless I have a character like Alan, whose focus tends to be on outward appearance, it's hard for me to work in details. There's the old "mirror" stunt, but that just screams "I AM DESCRIBING THE CHARACTER FOR THE READER." That only works if you have a character who is likely to spend a lot of time checking themselves out. With Alan, for example, he's a visual guy, but he's not that vain!

I'm on my work computer or I'd pull a couple example the top of my head, how I'd do a description...When Alan meets Nadia (a paragraph into chapter one--she's just bowled him over on the sidewalk) he notices that she is dressed in a "boho" way that's unusual for the non-artsy part of DC, where they are, that she is 'youngish' (he thinks; he's wrong, but he has no way of knowing that) and pretty enough he doesn't mind flirting with her, dark hair in a loose, long braid that again is Not Normal for the area, and that she was running on high heeled boots. I think the fact she has dark eyes may come up at some point but it's not precisely relevant, so it may not. Alan also notices and tries to peg her accent (missing by about 15,000 miles but he's a lawyer, not a linguist.) The point of the scene, besides flinging the reader into a normal day turned abnormal, is to establish that Alan is a smart guy but a bit prone to shallow looks-based judgement, and that Nadia is Not Normal.

In contrast, in chapter two, we meet the other protagonist, Elaine, and the other second lead, Val (Mark Valentine, who goes by Val for reasons explained much later.) In THIS case, Elaine notices his clothes, but is using them to try and peg what he does for a living. Her take on his hair cut is that it's neither military nor science geek, and only incidentally that it's dark. She notes his skin tone rather than his facial features and makes a guess (right for the wrong reason) that he spends a lot of time indoors. He's in good physical shape but the hair, clothes, and shoes tell her he's not military. (She'll later make a few judgements about Alan from the condition of his shoes.) Later when she comments on the sunglasses and he lowers them, she notes the color of his eyes because it's unusual.

Between both intros the POV characters pick up enough about the person they're looking at that the reader has a general idea, but can fill in gaps with their own preference, and they WAY each POV character looks at the other tells you something about that POV. (Alan is trying to figure out what you look like, Elaine is trying to figure out what you do.)
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