Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reality in characters?

What I'm reading: Bones, by Jonathan Kellerman

Following through on yesterday's post about things that can 'date' novels, I recall my first writing mentor chastising me for describing a scene where a group of volunteers was repairing a house to "the barn raising scene in Witness." She called it 'cheating' to use someone else's description. Given how long it's been since Witness came out now, it would have also dated the book, although I suppose it's on television often enough that people who weren't even born when it hit the theaters have seen it several times.

What about character descriptions? One question that crops up in blog interviews is, "Who would play your characters if they made your book into a movie?" (Sorry, hubby, but it's probably not going to happen in this lifetime, but hang in there). I'm not a movie-going person, and don't watch a lot of television. I'd be hard-pressed to conjure up images of the latest celebrities if an author used them to describe a character. So, not only would they date the book, they might be lost on readers.

I prefer to paint my characters with much broader strokes, and let the readers fill in the details with their own images. Diana Gabaldon says the same thing: she refuses to answer the question because she wants readers to keep whatever images they've got of Jamie and Claire.

I'm not much into paranormal or YA books, so the Twilight phenomenon has passed me by. However it's buzzing around the blog circuit now that the movie is out, and it's interesting to follow the threads where people have been 'disappointed' because the characters didn't match the visions they brought into the theater with them.

When I started writing, I wrote Highlander fan fiction, and the characters were already defined. When I adapted one of my short story ideas into What's in a Name?, the hero, Blake Windsor, bore an uncanny resemblance to Duncan MacLeod. However, I had to go in and describe him in more detail, because the novel was not a Highlander story, and readers needed to see Blake. But the first time we see Blake, I don't bother with a lot of detail. Partly because Kelli, the heroine, is trying to get rid of him, so she's not going to spend a lot of time analyzing every facial feature, and partly because I didn't want to stop the progress of the story and make the reader remember a lot of details. So, this is all we see:

She inched the door open. Swallowed. Twice. A man waited on her porch, wearing jeans and a windbreaker over a black turtleneck, holding an olive-green duffel bag. He stood at least six-two, with black hair that hung almost to his shoulders. Even the fact that his face and a razor hadn’t kept company in several days didn’t detract from his raw good looks.

“I’m Kelli.” She forced herself to meet his eyes. Dark chocolate brown, they grabbed and wouldn’t let go.

I'd rather the reader fill in the blanks for what constitutes "raw good looks."

Today's Gratitude List:
1. Nit-picky crit partners who make me think.
2. No school this week, so no traffic on the way to the Y
3. Richard, my hairdresser, who is one of my best promoters.


Liane Gentry Skye said...

So I'll post this with the right blog post this time LOL.

I wasn't permitted to go into the delivery room this time, but I wouldn't have anyhow. (Cage of Stars, Jacquelyn Mitchard).

Ray said...

I'm with you on the character descriptions. I like to draw my own conclusions including the ending of the book. One of my favorites, The Lonely Girls Club by Suzanne Forster allowed me to decide what was beyond the end of the book. The book had a real end, but there was enough left to my imagination that I could imagine what happened to the characters who were not included in the ending. Her publisher doesn't want a sequel. I have both sequels in my imagination.

The best book movie combination I have read and seen is White Orchid. I saw the movie first. Then I read the book. The movie ended two chapters before the end of the book. Had I read the book first I would have thought the movie was lacking. Reading the book second was just a way to tie up loose ends.