#ThrowbackThursday – Curious Incidents with Mirrors

Because this is a brand new blog, I’ve decided to start a #ThrowbackThursday feature, where I will be re-posting some of my older blog posts from my previous blog. 

How often do you look in the mirror and think: my long blond hair flows over my shoulders, a little straggly at the ends but nothing a good brushing won’t sort out. My eyes are wide and bright and eager, the colour of the sea on a summer’s day. My skin is porcelain, beautifully clear on account of the full skin regime my mother insisted on since I was fifteen; my neck is long and elegant… etc etc

My guess is not often, if ever. So why do authors invent such peculiar ways to describe their characters?

wp_20161214_15_13_39_proAs a writer, I rarely describe what my first person point of view character looks like unless it is vital to the plot. It doesn’t seem important, because as a reader it jars. I’ve been reading Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, which has inspired these thoughts. On the whole the book was enjoyable and seemed only to have the degree of description needed to convey the plot… until she had her twelve year old narrator look at herself in a mirror in a police station staff room and describe what she saw, in much the same awkward way I did at the start of this post. It was unnecessary to the plot at that point and totally jarred with the rest of the scene, which was quite tense and serious.

I much prefer to visualise for myself what the characters look like; I think that the personality is more important. If, for example, my character was very vain, yes I would definitely have her look in every single mirror and describe what she saw – because it would be relevant. If a character was obsessed by another, I’d probably use that to compare every insignificant detail because that’s what the obsessed person would be doing.

Perhaps I should try to describe my characters more fully: I could have people checking out their features in a turned off mobile phone, the concave of a desert spoon, the highly polished surface of a High Def flat screen TV…. oh, the possibilities 🙂

How do you describe your characters? Do you use strange and unique devices? How do you respond when you read something that jars with the rest of the scene?

 

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9 thoughts on “#ThrowbackThursday – Curious Incidents with Mirrors”

  1. I think that describing a character’s appearance can be a useful technique for giving clues about the character’s nature. In The Christmas Village, I give a fair amount of description about Ada, who is rolly polly and jolly and kind, and hopefully, the physical description reinforces what I want you to know about her as a person. Similarly, my initial descriptions of Jim Gordon offer you clues that he is not a good guy, without saying, “he is not a good guy.” So, I think that descriptions can be a useful way of “showing, not telling,” if you use them to show something about the person’s character and nature. They give the reader hints – “ah, it sounds like maybe this person is not going to be so nice.” It’s just another technique like using dialogue to reveal character. But I agree that throwing in a description just for the sake of saying “this is what the person looks like” is robbing readers of using their imaginations and is gratuitous if it doesn’t offer some other insight about the person that is important. I have read stories where every character, no matter how minor, is described, and that is totally superfluous.

    1. Yes, exactly – it’s knowing how to use the technique to further the story or offer insight, as you mention with Ada and Jim Gordon. In my current WIP, my character is an artist painting a self-portrait – I have to describe her, it would be bizarre not to.

  2. It is almost cliche t have someone talk to their mirror. I just haven’t been able to write deep enough into a novel to comment on this. It’s the old thing – you know it when you read it – jarring or not. I’ll use JK Rowling as an example of someone who writes so completely that I can see the characters on the page and I’m not conscious of it. That’s how it should work. Carry on…..

  3. I don’t mind descriptions as long as they don’t get overbearing or ridiculous. Congrats on your blog move. Personally I love blogger way too much but plan to get a wordpress website in the near future.

    1. Exactly, Sheena-kay – when the description pulls you out of the story rather than enhance it, it’s too much! I loved Blogger too – but I wanted a clean new blog start, and I already had this one lurking in the background. I like some of the admin features, too.

  4. Hi Annalisa – gosh it’s grey?! I have one lurking … but have never got over to work out how it works. That may happen this coming year … well done on this. I just need to be drawn into a book regardless of characters, but if it’s a novel then definitely I need to feel I can see and understand them … well done on the change .. cheers Hilary

    1. It was easier to work with WordPress than I thought it would be, but it feels a little more basic – not so much scope to use all the font colours you use on your blog! I like the simple, clean look for now though. It might change again, who knows?

      I agree that being drawn into a book is important. If you get a feel for the appearance of a character then it’s obviously not been written in a blatant or over the top way. Although… I really want to have one of my characters see themselves in the top of a kettle now!

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