Saturday, 18 December 2010

Curious incidents with mirrors

How often do you look in the mirror and think: my long blond hair flows over my shoulders, a little straggly at the ends but nothing a good brushing won't sort out. My eyes are wide and bright and eager, the colour of the sea on a summer's day. My skin is porcelain, beautifully clear on account of the full skin regime my mother insisted on since I was fifteen; my neck is long and elegant... etc etc

My guess is that it's not often - if ever. So why do authors invent such peculiar ways to describe their characters?

As a writer, I rarely describe what my character looks like unless it is vital to the plot. It doesn't seem relevant to me, because as a reader it jars. I've been reading Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, which has inspired these thoughts. On the whole the book was enjoyable and seemed only to have the degree of description needed to convey the plot... until she had her twelve year old narrator look at herself in a mirror in a police station staff room and describe what she saw, in much the same awkward way I did at the start of this post. It was unnecessary to the plot at that point and totally jarred with the rest of the scene, which was quite tense and serious.

I much prefer to visualise for myself what the characters look like; I think that the character of the person is more important. If, for example, my character was very vain, yes I would definitely have her look in every single mirror and describe what she saw. If a character was obsessed by another, I was probably use that as the need to describe every tiny insignificant detail because that's what the obsessed person would be seeing.

Perhaps I should try it though: I could have people checking out their features in their turned off mobile phone, the concave of a desert spoon, the highly polished surface of a High Def flat screen TV.... oh, the possibilities :-)

Until my next rant, enjoy the snow!!

6 comments:

  1. I gloss over descriptions when I read. I'm like you, I'll fill in the blanks myself. But as a writer, I do go back and add some. As a romance writer, I think it's kind of expected...just like the porcelain skin!

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    1. I try not to write anything that I wouldn't read myself.

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  2. I like to add in little hints about what the character looks like. In my first chapter I just have her running her finger through her blonde hair, but that's all the description I give. No need to tel every little trait of the character, let the reader make up their own, it's more fun that way!

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    1. Yes, it's much more fun to imagine what a character is like, and it helps the story flow so much better when every little detail isn't explained.

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  3. Hey, I just came over to give this underrated post a little love, and I'm so glad I did. That opening paragraph cracked me up! As a reader, too much descriptive detail is wasted on me because I only grasp onto a couple elements and then form my own picture anyway, so I try to remember this while I'm writing too...and catching glimpses in the glass of the picture frame by my computer of my medium-length brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail as usual, while my hazel eyes sparkle and crinkle at the corners when I write something particularly delightful...

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    1. Lol - it's always important to make sure there's a reflective surface nearby!

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