Monday, January 29, 2007

Book With Trish - Filtered Descriptions of Characters

Before I move onto how prior relationships effect how the characters interact in the early chapters I thought I’d answer the interesting topic raised by Marcy in the comments of the last Blog… Where she asked:

“I don't have enough description of my heroine in the first chapter, but that chapter is from her POV. How can I let the reader know what she looks like without having her describe herself? I've read book where the heroine is looking in the mirror, but that can't be the only way. So how can I get across enough detail without it seeming forced?”

I don’t think you need to use a mirror every time ;) Though that is a clever way of doing it… Impressions of a heroine while the story is in her POV are fairly easy to add in either the descriptive parts of the narrative or by adding it into what I call the ‘action’ or even by adding it into the dialogue of the hero…

If you have stated that the heroine had to tilt her head to look up at a hero you have already stated is six feet two, then we get a mental impression of her height, if it almost gives her a pain in her neck then you have an idea of how far she had to tilt…. If she raises a hand to brush back a curled lock of blonde hair then we have another impression… If at some point his dark eyes locked with green then we have her eye colour… See? Little by little we give the reader an impression that they can then use in their imagination to build up a mental picture… A mental picture, that if we're lucky, is backed up by the visual image on the cover. It's part of the reason authors can get so miffed if the covers are *off* and why all we Romance Line authors have been so darn chuffed of late!!!

Let’s look at some examples of filtered description, so you can see what I mean…

In Breathless! - When Cara first meets Rory the entire scene is done through her POV to give us a fairly detailed description of how damn gorgeous he is. But we also get snippets of her thoughts, her movement and actions and her narrative, that reveal a lot about her when all added together…

“Struggling against the warmth that rose in her cheeks, she tilted her head up and searched his dark eyes. The man could make a fortune playing poker. He didn’t even flinch. He just looked straight back at her and waited. Silently.”

This is just one line that helps with an impression of the heroine within a descriptive passage in her POV of the hero. Later in the chapter when she then states in the same descriptive manner that he was “Easily over six feet tall, six one or two at a stretch…” we have an impression of her height without actually saying what it is - which is something the hero could then tell us later in the book with his POV, confirming what the reader may already have had in their mind from this one line earlier on…

Then we have more small hints in the narrative like, “As her blue eyed gaze dropped down long, jean-clad legs she even expected to see a cast.” – A very simple addition, but now we know her eye colour…

Later in the scene we have some interaction where Rory gives us hints of a description of how Cara looks through his dialogue without us changing the POV:

“Do you want my help or not? Not that I think you need it.”

Cara snorted, “Yeah, right. Is your guide dog behind the counter?”

“Nope. I can see just fine, thanks. There’s nothing wrong with a woman with a few curves. Too many women are obsessed with looking like a broom handle these days…”

So we know, not only that Cara has a ‘few curves’ but that Rory doesn’t seem to mind that too much!!! Again, simple but effective, and leaving the mental image firmly in the realms of the readers imagination... And then we have the narrative from Cara that gives us another mental image of her, and reveals some of her character and motivation at the same time,

“She couldn’t go through yet another wedding as the fat bridesmaid, the one that everyone said had such a pretty face – a double-edged compliment for anyone who carried extra weight. Yes, it was nice to know you had a pretty face, but it always came across as something they said in order to find something nice to say when all else failed.”

These are all just snippets taken from the first chapter – a chapter done solely in her POV – But laced with hints about her appearance without having to either swap POV or add a mirror every time… Mind you, there’s nothing to say you can’t use those methods, nothing at all!!! But, for me, it’s all in the layering. And I don’t tend to spend as much time describing the heroine as I do the hero – because, like I’ve said before on this blog, the idea is to have the reader walk in the heroines shoes – so give them enough to form a mental picture and then let their imagination take over… it’s all about the escapism, right??? And then layer on lots about the hero so that the reader can fall a little in love with him at the same time the heroine does…

Well. That’s the theory. Never ever underestimate the power of the reader's imagination. The reader knows better than anyone else what they do and don’t like and what they do and don’t need to be told. And the danger with cp’ing – I know, cos I’m a cp myself from time to time – is that we can get so wrapped up in making sure all the *ingredients* are there that we forget to just enjoy the story first! The reader wants the story – they want the journey – all the description of how people look and the setting and the scents in the air should add to that journey but not distract from it… So, no shopping list descriptions – filter them through with everything else… So if we’re in one characters POV we have license to inform the reader a little more of how the other character looks and vice versa… Just don’t go mad and go the other way and leave it all out either…

As we cover each part of the workshop – take a look at the passages quoted and the different ways of doing things – and then look at what else those passages tell you outside of that particular workshops theme… Then every few we’ll take a longer section to look at and you can tell me what information you have gleaned from it with all your new found knowledge, okay?

Thanks Marcy! Great topic!!!

4 comments:

Rachael said...

Thanks for that heroine work-out Trish, although I think I need to apply it to my current hero. He's feeling a bit like a cardboard cut-out. I'm wondering if it's a simple thing like he's got the wrong name... but surely that can't be it. Perhaps I'll go have a play...

Marcy said...

Wow...I didn't expect such a thorough response! Thanks, Trish! That helps a ton. You have been very clever at finding ways to sneak in snippets of your heroine's description. I'll have to look for equally clever ways of doing it. You've given me lots of food for thought.

Marcy

Trish said...

LOL Rachael! I'd say if he feels that one dimensional then the chances are it's not just the name... Go with your gut instincts! If they're telling you that something is missing that much then go back and look at it again...

The hero should positively ooze into the first chapter! He's got to have that kind of sensuality to him that is going to fire the readers imagination and for me that means adding a lot more of him in the first chapter - kinda going a little aginst what I've said about the heroine...

Should I cover that too before we move on then??? Up to you guys... though some of it will be covered in Pt 8 when we do building sexual tension...

Bronwen Cleathero said...

Shoot I have just realised that I have missed the all important descriptions of my hero and only scattered impressions of her. Sheesh. Thanks for the jog!!