A blind person has no right being a painter. Now I'm not saying this to disparage blind people. I am not making fun of them, or trying to be cruel. The point of my saying this is to point out that someone who cannot appreciate beauty has no business being an artist.
I got into an argument today on Twitter with another would be writer who said that she hated character description. That it was meaningless, and only used as filler. I do not agree and as mentioned before with the whole argument thing, told her why.
Description is the one tool a writer has. Each book is a new world for a reader to slip into. It is our job as writers to make that world interesting enough to draw the reader into. The story we write has so much more to do with the conflict, and the main characters. This goes for everyone, doesn't matter if you are writing high fantasy or a modern day thriller.
Now, to prove how important this is, take an episode of your favorite movie or TV show. Hit the pause button on any scene and look at it. See just how many small things are in it that you take for granted.
The one thing I learned while painting is that what makes something beautiful is layers. In the background there are tiny details, in the foreground there are tiny details and all of this comes together in light and shadow to make what you are painting beautiful. This is no less true when you are writing. And the way you do this is description. Details make your story.
This person said that all you need when writing is to lay in enough description to ground the reader in your world and let them fill in the blanks with their own personal experience. I am writing a book about monsters. It has murder, explosions, gun fights, lots and lots of naughty violence. I'll be honest I've never been in a gun fight. I've never put two bullets into the back of someone’s head. I've never kissed someone who's mouth tasted like someone else' blood.
So there is no way I can rely on my own experiences to fill in the blanks as this person thinks is all that's needed. I feel comfortable saying that ninety percent of my readers won't know how this feels either. So it is my job as a writer to describe these sensations. Put my reader in the moment, to drag them into the story.
So that's my thoughts on world description. Now back to character description, and how important it is. I know your mother told you that it doesn't matter what people look like. They should be treated the same despite their differences. It's not true. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But it's complete and utter bullshit. Ninety percent of our decision making is based on what we see. It's a defense mechanism.
If you see someone standing on the corner, and they are dressed in a full leather body suit, with long stringy hair, a spiked mask, holding an ax that is dripping with blood. You would cross the street and do your best to walk calmly away trying not catch his attention because you know like an angry dog if you run, he has to chase. At least that's where my mind went.
How someone looks directly correlates to how you treat them. Not to mention that a person’s outward appearance tells you about them, about their personality. If someone is dressed in expensive clothing, their fingernails manicured, their hair perfectly quaffed it tells you that this person has money, that he cares about his appearance and possibly has control issues. If you see a chick dressed in bright colors. A short skirt, tall heeled boots, showing off a bit of skin, you know that she wants attention. Description tells your reader these things.
Now, for my own story, my main character dresses in bland clothing. Plain colored t-shirts that are easy to move in. Ripped up jeans, comfortable tennis shoes, her long blond hair is almost always pulled back in a tight ponytail, or a french braid. She has a dark scar on the right side of her throat that almost looks like a dog bite. Several smaller nicks on her neck and shoulders, a bullet wound scar on the front of her left shoulder. She has a gun in an inner pants holster that is just barely covered by her shirt.
What does this tell you about her? It tells you that she is always ready for a fight, or to run from one. It tells you that she tries to blend into a crowd, that she doesn't like being noticed. It tells you that she has tangled with scary things before, but that she is a survivor. That she was bigger and meaner than anything that tried to kill her.
So that's it my lovelies. That is why character description is important. In one paragraph I can tell you so very much about my character. I don't have to waste time telling you she is a bad ass. Or that she has seen horrors, because I already have. Description is the writers paint, whether you are painting a world or a character.
Big hugs and sloppy wet kisses from the green fairy!
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