Posts Tagged ‘characterization’




Sneaking up on Your Characters

Filed under: Drafting, Pondering, Vacation Madness, Writing, Writing Style

I promised you I’d be back today after my vacation and my blogcation. It was a good thing I took the blogaction (small break from posting) because the internet where we were staying could be a bit “moody” at times.

First off, it was a great vacation–lots of fun and sun and relaxation and roller coasters and yummy dinners and ice cream. And of course while I was away, I took some pictures. Not too many because I’ve started to learn it’s just as important to be IN the moment as it is to try and capture it, but I did take a couple. On our way home–driving for hours and reliving the vacation highlights, my husband gave me a great compliment. <3 He said he loved how I had started to learn how to sneak up on my subjects when I’m taking a picture. How I’m learning to capture the moment without interrupting everyone all the time. Of course I blushed and grinned and when I got home, I went to take a look at my pictures and tried to see what he was talking about. I tried to find you some of my favorite moments of photographic espionage to illustrate what he was taking about…









*sigh* I have to admit that most of MY favorites are his favorites too. But don’t fret, there is still a time and place for a posed picture from time. Just ask the crew at Table 15 at a wedding I recently attended. *grin*

photo 11


See–posing CAN be fun and funny. But even so,  I imagine you’re thinking…”that’s lovely Kim, but what the heck does this have to do with writing?”

A lot!!!!! I swear. I’ve been thinking about that relationship (you know I always do *wink*) And what I’ve come to realize is that at the same time I’ve been learning to sneak up on my pictures, I’ve also learned to come at my characters in a more subtle way. Let’s give you an example of what I mean. In my earlier writing I was inclined to describe a character like this…

Amelia had blue eyes that sparkled every time she smiled and because she was so petite, it always looked like her eyes took up half of her face. Whenever she made eye contact with a boy, which was often, she ran her delicate fingers through her mop of blonde curls. She was such a flirt and it made me sick.

That’s not a bad description. For better or worse, it hits all the typical things like eye color, hair and height. The description is based on a lot of telling, not showing. It’s a posed portrait of a character.

Now let’s try coming at a character like Amelia from a more indirect route. Let’s sneak up on her and the narrator a little…

When the bell tinkled on the door to the school bookstore, Amelia tucked a curl of hair behind her ear. Then she smoothed down her already ironed skirt in anticipation. All of that preening occurring before she even saw who had stepped into the shop. The shop where she’d carefully stationed herself during back to school week at the university. When Amelia took in the college sweatshirt that the jock-of-the-month was wearing, she really threw it into high gear, batting her voluminous lashes like an exotic bird in the middle of a complicated mating ritual. After seeing that, I slunk down to the pet aisle to throw up a hair ball.

Now I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement here (I just met Amelia and the mysterious narrator 15 minutes ago) but I’ve come to love the second description so much more than the first. In just the amount of time it took me to craft the second one, I started to get a real sense of who these characters were and I developed a desire to see what else they were going to do–what they were about. I think that’s because I snuck up on them and really took a deeper look as I was describing what I saw from the shadows. I’m hoping you agree with me on this one. Yes?

Anyway, whether you’re taking pictures or developing with words, give the indirect approach a little bit of your consideration. Sneaking up on your subjects is a quiet, but powerful way to capture a moment or tell a deeper story.

Do you agree with me? What characters, books or authors do you think do this really well? Have you ever pictured a character one way only to find out that what you thought was never actually in the description?


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