Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Character descriptions

   
Author Topic: Character descriptions
MaryRobinette
Member
Member # 1680

 - posted      Profile for MaryRobinette   Email MaryRobinette         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Here's a nice broad general question. I figure there's enough of you who've read my stories that I should be able to get some useful feedback here.

In general, do I do too little character description? As in, what the characters look like.

I will now, try--very hard--to stay out of the discussion except to ask questions for clarification.

[This message has been edited by MaryRobinette (edited August 11, 2004).]


Posts: 2022 | Registered: Jul 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Christine
Member
Member # 1646

 - posted      Profile for Christine   Email Christine         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
No.

That was an easy one.

...
...

Ok, ok, let me expand. I've never had any trouble picturing your characters. I don't know if you've specifically done much physical description, but if you did, it might just get in the way of my mental picture. I'm a big believer in minimal physical description, let the reader use their imagination and fill in their own pictures. (Helps them to identify with a character.) You have always seemed to use appropriate description, IMHO.


Posts: 3567 | Registered: May 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
No, madam. Sometimes stories are best when there isn't much a whole lot about the main -- just hints of appearance. This allows the majority of readers to adapt the character to their own personal view.

However, there can be flaw by doing that. If at some very late point in the story you suddenly make mention of a character's appearance that you've neglected to do earlier, you will undoubtedly throw off readers.

It's one of those things. Kinda like writing screenplays. You never really describe a character except generally. This lets any actor fill the role, pretty much.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited August 11, 2004).]


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
GZ
Member
Member # 1374

 - posted      Profile for GZ   Email GZ         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
In the selections I've read, I've never been left feeling like I was missing out on a description, so I vote you've got enough.
Posts: 652 | Registered: Feb 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
NewsBys
Member
Member # 1950

 - posted      Profile for NewsBys   Email NewsBys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think you do fine.

I prefer that the writer not describe the character. Tell me how the character reacts to some situation or what they think, and that tells me the character's "character". Those are the kinds of characters worth reading about.


Posts: 579 | Registered: Mar 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Robyn_Hood
Member
Member # 2083

 - posted      Profile for Robyn_Hood   Email Robyn_Hood         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks for posting about this. I don't think I've read any of your submissions (yet), unless you count Trapped in Dallas, so I can't comment on your writing. However I often wonder how much character description I need in my own stories. Sometimes it feels right, other times I get bored with myself. I actually went into my novel WIP and deleted all physical description and then added back some of it in bits and pieces.

I try to think of stories I've read and liked to see how the author "did it", but most times I can't think of anything, in fact I usually have to search for character descriptions because the masters all make it appear so seemless.

Ack! [Me pulling hair out, dressing in white and preparing to bounce around a rubber room.]


Posts: 1473 | Registered: Jul 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
goatboy
Member
Member # 2062

 - posted      Profile for goatboy   Email goatboy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm not a big believer in long descriptions of people. (I usually can't remember them when I read them anyway.)

For me, it's enough to know that Joe has a beard, Roger wears glasses with shiny silver frames and Sally is short. But unless the individual's looks are integral (ugly duckling being transformed)it actually is a hindrance to me to get too much detail.

I don't want to know that the hero is twenty, with flowing blonde hair, rippled muscles and perfect teeth. Why? Because I'm selfish. When I read, I want to be the hero. I want to see myself in that spot, and despite the fact that you guys may think of me as a twenty something, rippled muscled, blonde haired, perfect toothed hero, I regretfully must report that I am not. (Alas, I was at one time, but sadly, tootsie rolls are my downfall).

So, if there's too much description, then I either have to ignore it, or give up the fantasy of being the hero. (Some fantasies are too much of a stretch, even for me.)

But, your question is: do YOU do enough or not enough. I'd have to say you do just about right. I've had no problem with any of your stories so far. When it's important to know some physical feature, you've told me.


Posts: 497 | Registered: Jun 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
djvdakota
Member
Member # 2002

 - posted      Profile for djvdakota   Email djvdakota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
No. Let me tell you what Salvador looks like. He's mid forties, about 5'10", dark hair with widow's peaks, but not too high, his complexion is dark-ish (Mediterranean olive maybe), he wears a light gray or light tan suit with a faint plaid pattern to it, the suit is kinda rumpled since he travels a lot, he might keep a pair of specs in his pocket, he might have a bit of a middle but not much, he's pretty average build, he has a slightly roman nose, five-o-clock shadow...

I could go on.

In other words, Mary, the little description you provide certainly paints a clear picture for me (my interpretation of course, but what does it matter?) of Salvador.

Don't change a thing.


Posts: 1670 | Registered: Apr 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
MaryRobinette
Member
Member # 1680

 - posted      Profile for MaryRobinette   Email MaryRobinette         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks folks. It wasn't a particular story that prompted that question (though I loved Dakota's description of Salvador) but I've gotten more than one review asking for more character description. I figured; one, I'll ignore; two, makes me go Hmm...; three is a trend.

I'm also a big fan of minimal descriptions so that I can be the hero. The exceptions are when a character enters the room and has such an impact on the POV character that all action stops for a word picture. Even then, I prefer descriptions that give me insight into the character rather than a collection of tags that merely tell me what they look like.


Posts: 2022 | Registered: Jul 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Mary,

To boil this down a bit: There are two camps. You can choose one or the other. One is to provide every bit of detail. The other is to not do so and leave it open to interpretation.

Either camp you choose to go to for your summer holiday is the right choice. There is no wrong choice.

Don't worry about what people think in this instance. It's irrelevant. Including, sadly, this post.


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Kolona
Member
Member # 1438

 - posted      Profile for Kolona   Email Kolona         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
There are two camps....One is to provide every bit of detail. The other is to not do so and leave it open to interpretation.


Let me respectfully adjust that, HSO. There are three camps:
Provide every bit of detail
Leave details to interpretation
Middle road between the two

And all three can be done well or badly, the latter making the reader wish the author had gone in one of the other two directions.


Posts: 1807 | Registered: Jun 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
rickfisher
Member
Member # 1214

 - posted      Profile for rickfisher   Email rickfisher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
No, ma'am. You do fine.
Posts: 932 | Registered: Jul 2001  | Report this post to a Moderator
shadowynd
Member
Member # 2077

 - posted      Profile for shadowynd   Email shadowynd         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
MR: Never once have I scratched my head, wondering if the current character [of yours] I was reading was male or female; a dog, an alien or a human; black, white, pink, purple, or green; alive, dead or in between. Never once have I been bored by any character description that you have included.

I'd say that pretty well hits it right in that sweet spot in between.

Susan


Posts: 350 | Registered: Jul 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I agree with your correction, Kolona. I was oversimplifying it seems...
Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Robyn_Hood
Member
Member # 2083

 - posted      Profile for Robyn_Hood   Email Robyn_Hood         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I find a lot of my characters start to sound the same. I seem to have several blonde hair, blue eyed, 20-something women; men with short black/brown hair; and older gentlemen with silvery hair and eyes the colour of steel. (For some reason I don't have very many older women, hmmm, I never noticed that). The main reason is that I like to base my physical character models on people around me, kinda wierd though.

I like the idea of trying to leave it as open as possible as long I can still communicate that there is a difference between characters. i.e. Two men may have the same basic attributes but if I say one is a bookish scientist while the other is an Inter-Galactic Football star, it won't matter if they both have short dark hair with brown eyes.

Mary, as long as readers aren't confused about your characters then, it doesn't matter if you have plenty of description or just little teasers.


Posts: 1473 | Registered: Jul 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
QuantumLogic
Member
Member # 2153

 - posted      Profile for QuantumLogic           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
I've gotten more than one review asking for more character description. I figured; one, I'll ignore; two, makes me go Hmm...; three is a trend.
Seeing the responses posted here makes me wonder how you got three such reviews in the first place.

Posts: 30 | Registered: Aug 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, I'm sure you're aware of the expression: "You know what they say about opinions [...] everyone has one."

That's why she got three.


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
wetwilly
Member
Member # 1818

 - posted      Profile for wetwilly   Email wetwilly         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thank you, HSO. I want you to know that I appreciate you taking the time to share an entertainingly pithy remark with us.
Posts: 1474 | Registered: Dec 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2