Saturday, January 30, 2010

HUH???? - Writing Tip

Someone e-mailed this week to ask, "When do I describe the character? And how much do I TELL about them?"

It's always a good idea to use a full name on first reference (unless it's a minor unnamed character like "the waiter"), and to get the physical description in when the reader first meets the character. It can seem a small thing, but if your reader envisions a blond on first reference, only to learn that the character is a 0ne-eyed, dark-haired, pirate a few pages later. It can be really confusing. It wakes them from what John Gardiner, who wrote one of the best books on writing of all time, calls "the dream" of the story.

Believe me, I've seen some real "wake up calls" even in commercially published material. Once I was reading a historical romance set in Elizabethan England. Obviously the author had written it first as a modern story then, when historicals got hot, set it back in time.

There was a wonderful wedding scene. It had whole roasted pigs, jongleurs (what the hell is a jongleur, anyway?), lute players and troubadours singing bawdy songs of wedding night mistakes. Then a minor character praised the cheese served on the wedding "buffet," saying to the bride's father, "Where did you get this wonderful cheese?"

To which the bride's father replied, "Oh, I'm glad you like it, okay? We had it flown in special."


and "okay" would have been bad enough, as in Elizabethan times "buffet" was a cupboard but not YET a spread of food, and "okay" didn't come into use until about 200 years later. But "FLOWN IN?"


1 comment:

  1. That's pretty bad. I've read books too where the protagonist was dark haired in the first book and bald and white haired in the second. Those minor details really are important.