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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Importance of Character Descriptions: Novel writing

How many of you novelists often find the struggle to write about your characters?  This is an extremely important piece of the novel as much of the writing depends on really good character descriptions.  How do we go about defining our characters is really up to us and not someone else.

What ends up being a dilemma is that people often begin to criticize the novel and the characters in it.  I have not been immune to this.  Even in the editor's description of my first published novel this is one of the things that she seemed to pick apart.

Last year, when I had received the review, I really felt like I wanted to toss it out the door, but decided on keeping it.  I'm kind of glad that I did.  This was a paid book review for Black Roses first in my mystery series that got self published.

I didn't want to have it published and Author house kept it private to me.  Yet, as I read through it last week there were some good tips that I have carried on into my current writings.  She had complained of short and choppy sentences.  Which to an extent maybe she was right.

But, then as I think of this, I think all authors are allowed to have some short and choppy sentences.  Not every single sentence in a novel can be long and involved and sometimes short and sweet can be quite nice.  But perhaps I used the shorter and choppy sentences a little more often than I should have.  Who knows, but even so every writer does have their own style of writing and even though we all have this global guideline of how we are supposed to write down the English language, we also have our own set of rules that pertain only to us.

But, I took it to heart and I learned from that piece.

Also, she pointed out that I had no chapter breaks, which from now on, I will be doing.  And then the other point was that some of the character descriptions were out of place or didn't fit.  I will come to this important issue in a minute.

She did say that I mastered certain things so it wasn't all bad and she said I had mastered a look into the cruel world of a stripper and that thankfully we will never want to experience it.  Thank god.  Which I can also agree with that completely.  I wouldn't want to know.

Okay, so character descriptions can be hard to do.  I don't know.  I think this should really be up to the author.  Of course you do want to make it all believable.

Here is an example or two from years ago when I was writing and sharing my Lustful Evangelean romance novel with my woman's writing class.  I read different parts of it and some of the girls loved my character descriptions and thought that it was really cool that Evangelean had a white trashcan.

And then my writing instructor pointed out something about the college girl who borrows a cup of sugar from Evangelean and there's a secret there.  I probably should be posting some of this novel soon on here.  I dug up my half edited copy.  I think I had the girl drinking coffee or some other liquid and my instructor said she would rather see her drinking Oval tine. 

This would be a good point.  Well, she's a college girl and yes, she probably can only afford Oval tine and shouldn't be drinking the most expensive gourmet coffee.

I guess what I'm saying is that when we are doing some descriptions we have to work hard at making them fit.  But also I think a good deal of it should also be up to us.

Like if I want Sally to wear a polka dot dress, that is what she is going to wear.  And she should be wearing her favorite colors.

Perhaps my boy characters would like to wear stripes or another one is into the character t shirts of his favorite shows.

Maybe another girl only wants to wear leggings and no frills skirts.

Figure out what you want them all to be and go from there.  Of course you want them all to be different.

Like say Mary, Sally's mother's friend might end up being a real estate agent.  Well, she probably should be dressing the part.  And she's classy, so she should dress nice like a casual older woman.

Maybe Sally's best friend's mother likes to dress a little more sexy.  Who knows.

Also we have to think about who their character is.  What is their way of thinking?  It certainly shouldn't all be the same. 

I don't know, this would probably be a tough one for me, but I kind of just like to describe them the way I want and that is how it is.  If someone just doesn't like it, then that's okay.  It's their opinion.

I think we really walk a fine line when we are writing our novels and we should think really hard about how it should be, but then as we write and complete our writing process it is us and us alone that should decide how the whole thing should result in.  After all, it is our vision and not someone else's.

Hey, if someone doesn't want my college girl to be drinking Green Mountain Coffee Roasters or the most expensive brand, maybe they should write their own book where she drinks Oval tine.  Hey, maybe her gourmet coffee was a gift from a relative or something.

And we also have to keep reading our novels to make sure everything fits.

Like in Lustful Evangelean, I had Evangelean go off to her job and her lousy husband, Tom go to her place of work and do something he shouldn't have done and meanwhile neither one left their four girls with a babysitter. 

So, that one is a case where, yes, this really needs to be fixed as everyone will lose respect for Evangelean and toss the book in the trash. 

Your heroine and your hero have to be respected and liked in order for your audience to find it believable and want to finish the book or else it is clearly going to tank.

I still love Black Roses, because it was my first mystery novel I wrote.  The editor didn't think I should have mixed erotica with mystery and I think she had issues with the fact that yes, it was pretty much hardcore and the readers get quite the surprise.  Well, here I'm thinking, what did she expect?  It's about a stripper and a prostitute and yes, their life is pretty much hardcore. 

She did like that my stripper had a life outside of stripping and that I had mastered the facts of her wanting to escape that life and with her dealing with a stalker. 

What do they usually say?  Keep writing as perhaps the next novel will be even better.  My local editor had said this to me after reading Lustful Evangelean.  She really loved the story within the story so when I do go back and edit big time, I should focus on that. 

That was also the very first novel too, and it was very flowery at first.  My kids preschool teacher had said that she loved my writing.  Maybe that's just me trying to perceive the beauty in everything.  I mean, it was flowery to extreme.  I will have to share it with you sometime.  I probably shouldn't toss the original.  Actually, I did toss so much of the early one.  I had some first drafts that were handwritten and just tons of writings that never made it into the novel.

And a part of it had something to do with something from real life that I was going through.  My beginnings of a separation, but in the story I invented this different reality of course but those two things were a part of it.

But I was sparked to write the novel from a crush I had at the time on a preschool teacher of my youngest daughters.  I never did anything of course, but the preschool teachers (some of my good friends for life) decided to hire a male teacher that year, and he one day looked so sad.  I think he might have gone through a break up or something and then there was this little bit of flirting with him throughout the year.  I was shy so of course he never acted but he did do a good job of flirting.  And my friend Susie told me to can it and then she laughed and said, "If it helps, we all think he is gay."  Ha ha.  I think at one point in a woman's life whether you are married or not, you can think someone is hot.  There's no harm in it if it is just a minor flirting or a private crush.  We all know it needs to get canned quick.

So, I guess for a long time writing the novel was a fascination with it and pure fantasies.  I guess I was entitled to fantasies.  Isn't every woman?  That's kind of what the novel is about.  This girl who is approaching a time in her life where there is crisis, who is she, where is she going and what is she going to do with her life?  And is she happy in her marriage or is she not?  And in the story, Tom is quite what should I say?  Sleazeball?  That could kind of sum him up.  Of course so much different than my ex.

When you are writing, we take from reality, but it has to really be invented and imagined or else you have non fiction rather than fiction.

And then my editor, started talking about Hilary and Bill Clinton and how does she decide to take him back.  I might have to rethink this about the novel and decide some things.  She had a really good point.  Many women would want to see a heroine make amends with someone.  Or does she go completely the opposite and fall hard for Gauthier?  I guess I will be the one to decide the ending.

So, I guess how I want to end this post is to really think hard about all the aspects of the novel and think about how you want it to flow as a whole.

How it is perceived is completely up to you as it comes from your head and yours alone.

Jennifer Jo Fay

Copyrighted September 20, 2012


This was a photograph I took way back in 1992 when on a trip to York, Maine with my ex.  It was before I was married to him and his family and some relatives had rented a house there for the week and we were visiting for the weekend.  I think also my Mom and Dad came down for a day visit to meet his parents and have a dinner.

I was so nervous that when I was in my bedroom there, I spilled a container of water in the bedroom I was sleeping in.  While there, my ex and I slept in separate rooms.






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