1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Descriptions, all in one paragraph or intersperse it?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CMastah, Aug 4, 2014.

    Here's the thing, I got to a point iny my story where an old man comes by who's crippled, half burned, blind in one eye and has gray patches in his hair and find I'm not sure how to put it down on paper. I described him in one paragraph but got worried that the readers would either get bored of reading a paragraph of descriptions or even forget entirely the fellow's ailments.

    I'm currently casually putting in a description every now and then but now I have a fear that readers will be thinking, 'wait, he's got what?' by the time they've reached a fifth paragraph or perhaps even forget the description. With each character that makes an appearance I'm back to the same issue.
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    You described him here is less than a sentence. Maybe you're offering the reader too much detail ?
     
  3. molliemoogle
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    molliemoogle Member

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    CMastah, IIRC, there are different schools of thought on character descriptions. Some like it with action (maybe your character's grey patches flutter in the wind), some like it as a straight description (he was blind in one eye and crippled, etc), and some just lightly sprinkle descriptions throughout the book (does another character not notice his burns till later in the book because they're worried about something else?).

    Personally, I'm for description with action; it doesn't stop the pace of the story I'm trying to tell. In my current WIP, one of my characters is Japanese with blue eyes. A guy who works for him is built like a wall of human flesh and muscle (in fact, another character refers to him as The Human Wall). I won't say anything else about them until I need another descriptor to come up. Mr Blue Eyes is also quite tall, so when he leaves a room that he's having someone interrogated in, he has to duck his head to get through the door and Mr Muscles has to go through sideways. Maybe later, he notices a bloody spot on his silk tie. I've already said that he's wealthy, tall, has blue eyes, is Japanese, doesn't have a problem kidnapping people, uses bodyguards, and doesn't seem like a nice guy.. and it might take 20 pages to get that bit of information.

    Some romance novels make me laugh with "the block" of descriptive text: the jawline, the hair colour, eye colour, car, muscles, financial status, etc. Nothing wrong with it, just makes me think that the character is looking in a mirror.

    I wouldn't worry too much that your reader will forget. As long as you paint an image in their minds of the kind of person they are, you'll be fine. I read once that "no one remembers a character who loves pizza". I would add to that "unless pizza is really important to a character".
     
  4. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Holding back can be good. I would highlight the important stuff, but maybe leave the small details for later, or not at all. How important are the gray patches? Can we figure out crippled by his walk as he approaches? Noting his half burned state would be a given, but blind in one eye might only happen by the character mentioning it. Hitting us over the head with detail might not be bad, if he is important, but I would suggest sliding it in, and only the important stuff.
     
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  5. vonzex
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    vonzex New Member

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    I personally don't have any qualms whatsoever with a single paragraph of description. It is when the description is practically dumped and doesn't move the plot forward that I'd have to edit it out.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This sounds like a good paragraph to put in the workshop. It's hard to judge without actually reading it.
     
  7. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Thanks guys, I think perhaps I'll stay away from making a paragraph of description because as Vonzex said, it actually is just a dump of information that doesn't move anything along. This character, while important, is more of a 'behind the scenes' kind of guy and hardly shows up. I thought it may be important to describe him since, for example, while being blind in one eye, he actually loses use of the other eye in one of the scenes. Ultimately though, I think some descriptions can be saved for later, for instance the fact that he's got terrible burns on his body.

    I'd also workshop it but I'm not sure I've reached a point where I can submit something to the workshop :p
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you considered stevesh's comment that you described him to us in one sentence, and that perhaps therefore you don't need a paragraph? My concern is that while it's fine to note, "Oh, by the way, he's wearing purple socks" it's a little odd to say "Oh, by the way, he's wearing an eye patch and has severe burns on much of his face." Some things would be noticed pretty much immediately.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The most interesting way to do this kind of thing, is filter the description through another character. Maybe a character who pities this person, or who is shocked by his appearance, or repulsed by it. If your POV character comes across this man, what are your POV character's reactions? He tried to fix me with his one good eye, but I was more fascinated by the other. It had sunk into its socket, opaque and dim, like a dead jellyfish washed up on the beach. I shuddered, and drew away.
     
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  10. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Honestly, the first time I saw it (stevesh's comment) I was hesitant, it felt like a massive dump of information in one sentence. On re-considering it, it actually does seem fine, most of the information on him isn't going to play a part in the story (though I'd still like it to be clear to the reader that he limps and is sporting a single eye, the latter because he'll lose complete eyesight in one scene).

    @jannert, I think what I can do is, is to dump most of the appearance that won't be completely relevant (the fact that he's burned, has gray patches of hair and wears robes) into a sentence and to make details such as his single eye and the fact that he limps into sentences on their own (POV is going to be an issue, where he appears, I'm going with 3rd person omnipotent (I think that's the term)).
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    So you would be looking more at something like this? The old wizard tried to fix Jason with his one good eye, but the boy was more fascinated by the other. It had sunk into its socket, opaque and dim, reminding him of a dead jellyfish washed up on the beach. Jason shuddered, and drew away.

    We're inside Jason's head with this. He is fascinated, and the eye reminds him of something. This is not something another non-POV character would be able to tell for sure. However, a 3rd person omnipotent narrator would also be able to get inside the old wizard's head as well—like this—and tell us he 'tried' to do something. At least that's the way I understand a 3rd person omnipotent voice to work. Is that what you're looking for? I'm open to correction on this.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
  12. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    While I am inclined to say "yes" out of my belief in conveying description through action, the problem is that I often misinterpret these kinds of cues when I read them. If someone is limping, then I am probably likelier to infer that he is hurt than that he is crippled. Explicitly mentioning that he is crippled would solve that problem. (Although it would not be a problem if you want to put me in the shoes of someone who sees him for the first time and thinks that he might really be hurt.)

    Sometimes, the craft of writing becomes a hindrance to the end goal of communicating a thought, and it is better just to write exactly what you want the reader to know than to obsess over adherence to a style guideline.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @CMastah : You can't really have a "massive info dump" in just one sentence. A massive info dump is a thousand word flashback, or recounting character's history in a long and contrived dialogue or monologue. Pages and pages of exposition, that sort of thing. One sentence is just one sentence. The way you described him here, in one sentence, isn't an info dump. It's as much information a reader needs to immediately visualise the character. You don't need to carefully dose a physical description like you would clues to a mystery. This is boring, run of the mill stuff, say it and move on.
     
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