She’s a person not a cake

One thing that I learned that makes all the difference, is to make my characters real through details instead of the long dry head to toe description. People are going to imagine them their own way anyway so describing every single aspect is tedious and unnecessary. A girl who twirls her hair or a man who cracks his knuckles will be more memorable.

Cal is an attractive successful man, he sees two women at a bar, both pretty, one flirtatious and the other awkward. I want to show that Cal knows about style and quality. At this point Cal has already been introduced so there is no need to mention his appearance. BTW he is well dressed, tall and handsome. Typical for this type of interlude.

For example:

Cal watched the two attractive fit women at the bar. They were young pretty and an odd couple. The brunette had a bob cut and dark blue eyes. She wore too much dark eye makeup and ruby-red lipstick. She had a firm athletic body. Her long legs below her hiked up black Saint Laurent miniskirt, exposed her red lace underwear when she moved.

The other, the Blonde, wore sensible Dolce & Gabbana outfit and applied minimal makeup. Her tight pink shirt and casual black flair skirt fit her like a glove and she tugged at them awkwardly. She had pretty brown eyes and a small nose. Slim long legs and soft features. By far prettier than the brunette friend. She was dragged out tonight, the awkward smart friend too work driven to have fun.

The friend isn’t the only awkward thing there. Everyone knows what a woman looks like and if he’s interested there is a good chance they are attractive. Let me try that again.

Cal leaned casually on the wall as he watched the odd couple at the bar. The brunette looked over at him with dark blue eyes. The corner of her ruby-red lips curled as she tongued the straw in her drink and brushed the bottom of her short bob cut with her fingers. Too easy, with her black Saint Laurent miniskirt hiked up, proving her lace panties matched the over-applied lipstick. She was on the hunt.

Her modest friend however, the long-haired blonde in Dolce & Gabbana, would be worth the challenge. Again, she tugged on her tight pink shirt then adjusted her flared black skirt drawing attention to her strong legs. She frowned at her friend, following her gaze over to Cal. Her pretty brown eyes met his briefly before dropping to the drink in her hand. She was dragged out tonight, the overworked over achievers were bound to have something interesting to say and Cal was tired of boring easy women.

That may not be perfect, but it’s a lot better than the list of features before it. Believe it or not I recently read a book that did just that. The story stopped dead in its tracks for a paragraph checklist description of someone’s appearance. I try to avoid doing that.

My advice about describing physical features.
Try to work it into the scene instead of brow beating the reader with a dried up awkward list of ingredients. She’s a person not a cake.

 -Sheryl

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Minimal

Good or bad, they are driven by passion.

Passionate is a powerful word. It evokes an immediate strong emotional association with whatever it’s used with.

I wrote a passionate character, she runs high on whatever emotion she is experiencing and is so driven she is exhausting to write. Her passion for success is equal to her passion to be kind and fair. She is funny and frustrating and a wild ride of emotions. Her evolution is difficult and gradual. I try not to have people switch personality or suddenly become someone their not with no reason. (There is nothing worse than a complete mysterious out-of-place personality overhaul, unless it’s purposeful)

I enjoy researching personalities (An ongoing study). When it comes to passionate people there needs to be balance. Most everyone is passionate about something, but not everyone is passionate about the same things. This is important and can open up all kinds of opportunity for friction, argument or even violence. It can also aid in the growth and development of a character, and it is important, but it has to be believable.

I think of it this way, someone with a passion thinks about it often, and will bring it up whenever possible. Not just because they want to share, but also because they get a high from talking about something that riles them up. Someone with something to look forward to is likely the person to jump out of bed early – bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to take on the world. I make sure my character that is overly passionate gets excited easily, because that’s real.

Passionate people are emotional people it goes hand in hand. Whether they are passionate about books, cooking, sex, drugs, fighting crime or committing it. Passion doesn’t always mean good, there are some people that are passionate about being racist and bigots or causing pain.

Often a person who feels so strongly about something will live it fully, devoting their lives to whatever has them up early and shouting it to the world. They are risk takers, when driven they might do anything to keep their passion alive or achieve a goal. Maybe Joe steps on Sasha to get his dream job. That would create all kinds of drama.

Someone who is strongly attached to a passion can shut down just as easily as they are revved up. Especially when they are denied or fall short of their goal. This can spark a downfall or renewed determination. I use this as a great way to allow the character to soul search and grow into who I want them to become or switch gears. This is key because a person who is or has experienced the power of passion is usually someone who thinks positively. The go-getter or the one that doesn’t let others wallow in defeat. They want them to feel the joy they get so they are motivating.

Taking someone from a train wreck to successful leader cannot happen overnight. It can’t happen without ups and downs and it can’t happen without passion and drive.

On the flipside taking someone from an unnoticed-high-achiever to betrayer and ultimately enemy, takes finesse and a more subtle approach to their brand of passion to destroy or take over.

My advice about passionate characters.
There is a fine line between passionate and obsessive. My passions seep into my life they don’t control it. Take a look at people that are passionate and driven, are they awe inspiring or so annoying? Don’t forget they need contrast, the apathetic counterpart that inspires frustration.

-Sheryl

Oops! What did I just say?

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Passionate

Sensible sensation

Immersing the reader into the story is something I still strive to achieve. When writing it’s important to use all five senses. Smell, sight, taste, hear and touch. Now it’s not imperative every scenario have all five, but it can help plump up a drab sentence.

For example

Joe picked up the book from the desk. It was heavy and bound in black leather, it crackled when he opened it.

Yawn. I need to make this book more important, to focus on it and make Joe experience the book. To do this I use a technique explained in The FAB pencil to describe the book better. This is not going to decrease word count by any means, but is a great way to add words if that’s the goal.

Now for fun, I’m going to add all five senses to this interaction and bring Joe and the book together like lovers on a moonlit night, instead of strangers on an awkward blind date.

Hear

Joe picked up the heavy black book from the desk. The satisfying crackle of the leather floated to his ears as he opened the cover.

Touch

Joe picked up the heavy black book from the desk and ran his fingers over the hard smooth surface. The satisfying crackle of the leather floated to his ears as he opened the cover.

Smell

Joe picked up the heavy leather bound book from the desk. He ran his fingers over the hard smooth surface. The satisfying sound of crackling leather filled the room as he opened the cover. He inhaled the musty scent of old paper and ink as it wafted to his nose.

Sight – this isn’t always necessary since he is clearly looking at the book. Depending on how important the book is, will depend on how much time I put into describing it and the interaction. This book is important so it warrants a better description. At this point I have decided that picking the book up doesn’t make sense. It’s unnecessary.

Joe peered down at the heavy black book on the desk. He ran his fingers over the hard smooth surface and opened the cover. The satisfying sound of crackling leather filled the small room, as the musty scent of old paper and ink wafted to his nose.

Taste – I’m not likely to have him lick or eat the book, that would be weird. Maybe if this was a totally different scenario or he had a paper eating problem it would fit, however for this I’ll keep taste subtle.

Joe licked his salty lips as he peered down at the heavy black book on the desk. He ran his fingers over the hard smooth surface and opened the cover. The satisfying sound of crackling leather filled the small room, as the musty scent of old paper and ink wafted to his nose.

Voila. Now Joe fully interacted with the book. Making him lick his lips also added emotion, depending on what came before this interaction it might be excitement, anticipation or nervousness maybe even fear.

My advice about senseless writing.
Take some time to make important objects blend into the story, make them become part of the experience and not a foreign object explained coldly.

-Sheryl

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That is disgusting

People can be gross, I mean really gross. They do things that make me cringe.

When a character does something disgusting and it’s shown and not told, I will be disgusted too. And that is the entire point of reading a book. I want to be in the story. I want to feel it.

For example:

Billy sat in the back corner of the coffee shop. In one hand, he held his book. With the other, he carefully dislodged a decent clump of moist mucus from his nose. After examining his generous prize, he rolled it between his thumb and forefinger as he continued to read. Without a thought, he flicked the carefully constructed ball. He happened to see it plunk into the cup of coffee on the table next to his.

He glanced around quickly, nobody was looking. Nobody Witnessed the once in a lifetime accidental shot. Feigning interest in his book, the devil in his head urged him to silence. He watched the snotty woman in a pale green sweater sip her coffee-surprise. Had she not been so incredibly rude to him earlier he might have spoken up. Then again, he might not have.

When the woman finished her present, Billy got up to leave, pausing at her table.

“Good coffee?”

She looked up from her tablet, her face morphed into a sneer and she tutted. “It’s a latte, and I’m still not interested in someone,” she looked him up and down, “like you.” She dismissed him completely giving her tablet her attention.

Billy walked away, a slow satisfied smile creeping to his lips.

I loved writing this because Billy the bad-guy is as much a victim as the woman who is horrible in her own way.

Billy has a habit. He likes to pick his nose. It’s called rhinotillexis. If he eats it, it’s called Mucophagy. Does the reader need to know the specific detail of what the act is called? Maybe. If it’s relevant to the story. Otherwise, leave it as a quirk or bad habit.

Cringe worthy things happen all the time. Like when someone hands you money that was carefully tucked away in her sweaty cleavage. What bothers you might not bother someone else.

My advice about grossing out your readers.
If it gives you the heebie-jeebies or turns your stomach, it’s safe to use. My example was a very long way to say, – He picked his nose, flicked it into the shrew’s drink and watched as she drank it. – Blech.

-Sheryl

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