Remember we talked a little about getting our characters names on the page as soon as possible to get them introduced to the reader? (Pont1 of the last workshop task?) Well, now we’re going to look at the next thing on the list and we’re going to talk a little about describing them…
Writing a romance can sometimes take on a slightly different language from the norm except in the actual dialogue (though not in the terms that so many category romance critics might like to think!) It’s up to the writer to transmit to the reader not only the basics of how they look or what they’re wearing - like some kind of criminal ID that you’d make for the police - but to transmit details in such a way that the readers imagination fills in the gaps… (and that happens when people read a romance – just ask all the Blog visitors who have been disagreeing with my original casting of O’Reilly’s Bride…) In a romance we have to use as many elements as possible to portray how attractive each character is to the other, we have to key into that part of a readers imagination where they have already an idea of what they might find attractive. And that's no easy task!
What we have to do is ‘show’ how these people look through the eyes and the perception of their counterparts and using as many elements of layering as we can to create a three dimensional image… And it’s also worth keeping in mind that beauty and attraction is all in the eye of the beholder and in the extension of the writers imagination into the readers imagination!
Let’s look at a few different examples from the two lines…
First up from Chapter One of White-Hot! We have Shane through Finn’s eyes:
There were times when Shane Dwyer’s way of asking a question accompanied with a mischievous sparkle in his blue eyes just bugged the holy hell out of Finn.
This hints not only how Shane looks, but at a little of his personality… It’s not much – but in one sentence we have told the reader he has a mischievous sparkle in his blue eyes – so let yourself form a mental picture of that – and we have stated that it bugged the holy hell out of Finn – so we have stamped familiarity between the characters in the readers mind too… One line, but effective…because already you are thinking about that mischievous sparkle and translating it in your own imagination. And we can drip lines like this all through the manuscript – subtly reminding the reader time and time again of that mental picture they have formed. Solidifying the image if you like. Cos, like I said, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder – and no two people will ever read a description of someone and form the same mental image. Readers will all have their own ideas of how the hero and heroine look by the end of the story – and I think as a reader myself that that’s just how it should be. So, that if you were to ask them all to do a picture for that ID for the police – the chances are that no two pictures would be the same. Just think of the varying debates on the men who have played Darcy in P&P adaptations and you’ll know what I mean…
So, little details. repeated often can be effective. And your reader will fill in the blanks…
From Chapter One of Breathless! We have Rory through Cara’s eyes:
He had the eyes of a devil. Midnight black, but with sharp sparks of light, like diamonds sprinkled on a coal face. And that voice! A deep baritone grumble that sent tremors through the air, ripples that washed over body and called out to every pheromone she possessed.
Keep in mind that this is a quote from a Modern Extra and we are building a picture of an Alpha male who the heroine is fiercely attracted to from the start – even though she fights him off verbally from the very first page! Rory is supposed to be sexy as hell – and from the way that the heroine reacts to him we know that – and we fill in the gaps in our own minds… What do you see of him from that short description? Have you got a mental picture? This is a slightly different way of approaching the descriptive element of our characters – it uses a very visual image with the diamonds and the coalface. And then adds another sense – sound – to make the image of him more ‘multi-dimensional’. Use of the senses is so important. And something I’m trying more and more to be conscious of using these days. We don’t just have sight through our characters eyes to help form that mental picture – we have sound, scent, touch, taste… And each one of them adds to the overall picture. So when you read back over your work look at where you might add a sense to heighten a characters awareness or to add to that mental picture your reader is forming. Don’t leave the senses out!!!
From Chapter One of Bride Of The Emerald Isle (formerly known as The Love Letters). We have Garrett through Keelin’s eyes:
The mist swirled again in pockets at his feet, the sun came out and caught in a glint off his dark hair. And Keelin stood transfixed as he got closer and looked straight at her.
He was sensational.
Straight out of the pages of some big city magazine trying to sell country-wear to women who dearly hoped those clothes would make their citified men turn into this Adonis.
Now keep in mind that this is a Romance… this is a more classical form of description – with room for a slower build from that initial attraction – and definitely more room for a slightly more ‘flowery’ description if you will… Here we have used outside elements to add to the description. We have the mist swirling at his feet, we have the sunshine glinting off his hair. And this is another method we can use to ‘frame’ the description of the characters – think how long hair on a heroine would look tossed by the wind – or how a chill in the air might bring a rosy tint to her cheeks… How would drops of rain fall off the ends of short curled hair? It’s integrating those outer elements so that your description is embedded into even more information (this time about the weather) that can make the scene seem more real for the reader. Everything you write should have that multi-dimensional element to it. And again – this is something you can think about when you go back through the story. (If you read this blog then you’ll know with this book I had to go backwards and layer in – dogs – for instance. And when I did I used them to high-light how the heroine was becoming a part of the hero’s life. The dogs would shadow her, lie at her feet, would not come when their master called them. Subtly using the ‘man’s best friend’ analogy to echo how she had been immediately accepted by everyone in the hero’s family…even though he was still denying he felt that way himself.)
Then we added the small passage about the country-wear magazine – this is again a way of trying to allow us to form that mental image. I mean, if you’ve ever looked at those pictures of men in outdoor gear then you’re gonna think good looking men, aren’t you? I know I am!!! In fact, I could probably send you a few….
Whatever way you describe your characters, just remember that it is layering, and not a long list that says – He was 6ft 1 with short dark hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders and dimples when he smiled. Yes, that will create a mental image. But it’s a very *flat* description. And when writing a romance, or any book, we don’t want our characters to be flat – do we?
You’ll hear me use the phrase layering again and again and again as we write this book together. Because to me, the layering of all these different things can turn a mediocre story into something amazing. No two writers will layer things the same way. But then no two writers given the same basic plot will come out with the same story. That’s the beauty of the individual voice! But every one of them will use layers – plot is a layer – dialogue is a layer – use of the senses is a layer – POV is a layer – movement is a layer… It’s how you put them all together that draws the overall picture – like an artist laying colors onto a canvas.
So, while I run off to look at the next part of our last exercise and blog about the Pineapple Party – have a read over what you have written and see where you could layer in some of those things to make what you have written stronger…It could be somewhere where you can layer in a scent – the musk of male aftershave – the taste of coffee on their lips. Or sound – the outside noise from a busy street – the soft music from a radio station. Or even the weather - the heat of sun on their faces – the wind in their hair…. The choices are endless…. And by layering them in you don’t need to use paragraphs of your short word count limit to try and describe your characters when you could be layering a little along with everything else – the same for using a paragraph on the weather - or a paragraph on their surroundings…
Yes, paint us that mental picture asap. No, don’t make it one dimensional!!!
So, still following our list from the last workshop, next up we will have how their prior relationship effects the way your characters interact…