Friday, March 8, 2013

Character Descriptions and March Wish List Contestt

While sitting in my doctor's office this morning I discovered I'd forgotten my Kindle, so I picked up a magazine and couldn't help laughing.  It was supposedly a men's fashion magazine.  All the male models looked anorexic, still their sport coats were a couple of sizes too small which emphasized their toothpick arms and non-existent chests, making them look silly.  Most had pained looks on their faces like they either had on shoes that were too tight or they needed to find a men's room.  The majority were also in dire need of a shave.  I wondered if the pictures really denoted what is considered fashionable today and what kind of woman would be drawn to a skinny scarecrow wearing clothes better suited to his little brother.  (Writers concern themselves with fashions, trends, and what is considered attractive to the opposite sex.)   

I put the magazine down and picked up another one that appeared more geared toward women. None of the female models in this magazine looked like the skin and bones creatures of a few years ago.  In fact a few showed more derriere than I consider appropriate and that feature was a bit too padded.  I half expected to see a fashion turn-around of these larger women paired with the scrawny men in the previous magazine. The funny thing I noticed was the men pictured with women in glamorous gowns, skimpy swim suits, or tight jeans were not the scarecrow models from the men's fashion magazine.  Instead in the women's magazine the men were smiling, they had well-filled-out but not too small jackets, and they all looked like they worked out on a regular basis.  They were clean shaven too, or had nicely trimmed facial hair. 

We writers try to create appealing heroes,  but sometimes it's hard.  The dreamboat hero I dream up may fall short of my readers' expectations.  The overly skinny guy with a goatee, ripped, sagging jeans, a too small t-shirt, and a minimum  of six facial piercings might actually be someone's idea of wonderful, but not mine. I don't find the bulging muscle man or the guy with a flabby tummy and a crack showing above the back of his jeans attractive either.

A few years back I was a buyer for a library and my responsibilities included purchasing the library's romance novels.  When I first began buying these novels I noticed that they contained very detailed descriptions of the leading characters and the clothing they wore, then later the descriptions became more vague, leaving the details to the writer's imagination.  I spoke with one well-known writer, who happens to be black, at a conference once.  She said when she writes she always pictures the hero being of her race, but she describes him as tall, rugged, muscular, having curly or wavy hair, and a gorgeous wide smile and lets her readers interpret tall, dark, and handsome any way they like. 

Which brings me to the point I want to make.  Describing characters is not as easy as one might think.  Too little description leaves a character lacking realism.  Too much description can spoil the reader's ability to see someone he or she finds appealing.  It's important to make descriptions fit the time period and the action taking place in the story.  That goes for what the characters wear as well.  It's one of the reasons I like books better than movies.  My imagination paints more attractive heroes and heroines than any movie stars, and far worse villains.  

I'm always interested in other people's opinion on character descriptions.  How much is enough?  And how much is too much? 

I'm slow this month kicking of the Wish List contest, but here goes.  Comment on any blog I write this month or on my reviews in Meridian.  Every comment (tasteful) counts as an entry.  The prize is any of the LDS novels I have reviewed and still have sitting on my shelf.  The winner is always asked to submit a wish list of five or more books from which I pick one to send to him or her.  Multiple entries are welcome.


Lisa said...

I've decided I have no idea what is fashionable. I recently stood in line at the airport behind a young man. His tatoos and the gauges in his ears identified him as younger than I am and outside my comfort zone. His physical appearance was clean if a little off putting. However, I wondered through my entire time behind him, why he felt it so important that I know what kind of underwear he was wearing. I've witnessed low riders before, but these were so low that his entire fanny would have been exposed, his belt loops were beneath both his cheeks. I'm sure there is a genre out there where this is appealing fashion. But not for me. I just kept wondering how offended he would be if I encouraged him to pull up his pants.

Stephanie Svedin said...

The fashion trends and the world's expectations are always so interesting. They are constantly changing when the Lord's never changes. He expects us to constantly change into who we are meant to become.
I am always satisfied with a brief physical description. Hair color, tall or short, eye color, and maybe race if it is pertinent to the story. Can't wait to read the new book!

Anna Maria Junus said...

I prefer to imagine the characters. I get frustrated with too much description. I am attracted to the traditionally handsome man (although I really like the non-shaven look), but as a writer I want my readers to imagine who they want to. I would rather have them speak and their characters come out that way, or through the eyes of other people. As for clothing, a little description goes a long way. It can help set up the mood, but again, too much sounds like a fashion show.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Can I just say I loved this post because it made me laugh! It's so true that what I deem attractive and what the world seems to think is attractive these days do not match. Great post!