Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Novel Progress - update

As I didn't write last night (I went to the pub) I thought I must get some words down tonight. Managed about 900'ish before I ran out of steam but that's better than nothing (especially as the TV was on VERY LOUD and I couldn't really concentrate!). Am only 700'ish words away from hitting the 75% written mark so that's what I'm aiming for tomorrow.

I know I shouldn't but I can't help re-reading bits of what I've written so far and I'm itching to finish the first draft and start editing. Everything I've learned from the "Make Your Words Work" book (see previous posts) is gnawing away at my brain going "apply me, apply me." I'm also aware that my novel is pretty dialogue heavy (maybe I should be a screenwriter?) and I need to go through the novel and work on my very sparse descriptions both of settings and my characters.

I was reading an interview with some author or other today who said that she didn't include any descriptions of any of her characters as she likes to leave it up to the reader to decide what they look like. On the other hand, I recently read the first few pages of "Vince and Joy" by Lisa Jewell ("Ralph's Party" was the first chick lit book I ever read) and noticed that she goes into great detail when describing her characters. I think perhaps I fall in between the two camps as I'm not sure if no physical description at all of your characters is a good idea (though I'd like to get away with that if I could) and I'd feel like I was really slowing the pace if I put in too much description. Opinions? How much description do you like to read in a novel and how much have you put into your own work?

6 comments:

Nichola said...

Funny you should mention physical description. A friend once said he didn't think I described my characters enough. "In fact I've just realised I don't know what they look like; hair colour, eyes, nothing!"

I said exactly the same thing as the author you mentioned, that I liked to leave it up to the reader. The trouble is, listing characters' appearances can read like an info dump and no-one goes to the mirror and thinks, "I must put some mascara on my hazel eyes and brush my silken blonde hair which reaches to my waist like a glossy curtain." ;)

Sometimes I have other people commenting on their looks or characteristics but in the main I describe people sparingly and leave the rest up to the reader.

SallyQ said...

This is a tough one, Cally. I sometimes write a full story and realise I haven't described any of my characters, yet I read somewhere the other day (I can't remember either) where it says you should describe your characters. I tend to describe secondary characters, from my MC's pov, then forget to describe my MC.

I think you can suggest a lot from a little description though. For one of my characters in Valla's Secret, I merely let the reader know she was Jewish, an intrepid reporter, and then made a brief mention of her 'flicking her long dark hair'. I let the reader fill in the gaps.

But I think describing characters is more important in romantic fiction, for example Mills and Boon. Oh and in Space Operas so you know the bad guy has tentacles coming from his armpits ;-)

CTaylor said...

It's interesting that neither of you are keen on too much physical description. I wonder if that's a reflection of a modern trend.

When I sent my first 3,000 words off to Vanda one of her comments (about 2,000 words in) was "Just realised, after reading the description of Saint Bob that you haven't described your main character or her boyfriend?" I had gone to town on the description of Saint Bob (because he was very ususual looking) but hadn't described the MC or Dan at all. I thought about Vanda's comments and then went back 1,000 words and put in some description but it was only very brief.

I think the trouble with description of your main character - if you're writing in the first person - is that it's so hard to avoid the "I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror.." device. As Nichola says it does end up sounding like an info dump. I do think it's very hard to write personal description in the first person well.

Sally - I think your "Jewish, intrepid reporter and long dark hair" description works very well. You fit your own mental image to that description and you don't need it spelt out.

Nichola said...

I only ever write in third person and even then there's a danger of info-dumpage.

Really, if someone's looks don't affect the story (and they hardly ever do) there's no need to go into any great detail.

I always say it's what someone does that makes them interesting, not how they look.

But when I do mention someone's appearance I concentrate on what makes them different, rather than listing attributes. For instance with one character I mentioned from another character's point of view that she never had a hair out of place, never raised her voice and never smiled, to give the impression of someone who was completely self-controlled. It wasn't her hair colour or eyes that mattered, but the fact she always had a perfect appearance. I used this to illustrate character - self-control to the point of OCD.

Like I said, I believe the trick is to concentrate on differences than merely giving a shopping list of characteristics.

angelesque said...

I absolutely adore Lisa Jewell - and Ralph's Party was the first chick lit book I ever read too! In terms of physical description, I think you're right about the half way thing - I do like to build up my own image of a character in my head but like it when one quirky detail is described in depth, if that makes any sense. For example, I'm happy to imagine the twentysomething average girl, but like to be told, say, that her very long hair can neevr be fought into any sort of style... that sort of thing (lame example but hopefully serves its purpose!)

Victoria Hume said...

I suppose you should ask yourself whether you like reading long descriptions of a character. You should write what you want to read yourself.

Sometimes descriptions can work really well but other times they can become tedious. Are you describing them because you think you have to or are you doing it to lend interest to the character? I suppose you should always try and make sure it's the latter reason.

I think Nichola makes an excellent point, single out the quirky details that makes them different and interesting, the features that actually tell us something about who they are not merely a list of attributes. And i guess think of inventive ways to add in descriptions that are worked into the plot.

Have you read any of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy... it's quite far from chick lit but in my opinion he is the king of description! He has all these amazingly unique characters. For example, here's how he describes Swelter, a fat loathsome chef, falling comatose after consuming too much wine:

'The chef, like a galleon, lurched in his anchorage. The great ship's canvas sagged and crumpled and then suddenly an enormousness foundered and sank. There was a sound of something spreading as an area of seven flagstones became hidden from view beneath a catalyptic mass of wine-drenched blubber.'

ahh...what a way with words!