Monday, January 11, 2010

Reading is a participatory sport - Writing tip

When the character is first mentioned, you will need a quick image that the reader can build on and imagine the rest.

Describing a character feature by feature can get to sound like a catalog. The key thing is to describe them when they are first mentioned, before the reader’s imagination kicks in. Because even if you say nothing more than "Mrs. Goodbody, the housekeeper," the reader's imagination will create a picture to go with the name. Reading is a participatory sport. The reader is always actively involved in creating the characters from your words.

Here’s an example of how to do this from my mystery FINAL EXIT. It contains the first description of my brother and sister team, police Detective Jon Abercrombie and his psychic sister, Jillian, who are at the theater.

Jill leaned closer. “That woman over there thinks we’re twins.” She nodded toward a woman in large improbable pearls who surveyed them through opera glasses.

Actually, Jon knew they looked alike. Same dark eyes, same straight nose, same generous mouth. But his hair was dark where Jill’s was fair, and his jaw was square while Jill’s pointed chin gave her face a heart shape.

My example is by no means perfect, but I believe it gives the reader enough of an outline that they can imagine the rest.

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