Nano TwentyOne – “Personality”

godzillaWhen someone begins describing someone with “they have a great personality,” the first gut inclination is to usually picture Godzilla in a dress and a wig, or King Kong in a wife-beater and filthy sweatpants.

In fiction, personality builds the visual image of the person’s beauty in the reader’s mind. Think about how Stephen King writes his characters. Never does he describes the piercing colors of blue in her eyes, or the dark coffee color of his skin. The way King describes people is to make their attitude and reaction to the story build their beauty in your mind as you read. Their actions make them beautiful or ugly to you – not by his words describing them. Same thing with Neil Stephenson and his character K.T. from Snow Crash (one of my favorite novels, if you want something to read later.) Neil talks about K.T.’s hair a few times since it annoys her on the board she uses for delivers, it happens to hover above the ground and for some reason this stupid editor in wordpress isn’t letting me type in the words hover and board together.

Sorry about that.

Anyway, Neil doesn’t go into physical details about KT, only how she reacts and the attitude she gives to things happening around her. You don’t need to know what she looks like. This type of storytelling lets the reader put whatever face they want on the character and making it their own. By giving them the paint and canvas, the readers themselves use their own brushes to draw the scenes in their head.

Try this, because I’m guilty of it also.

Instead of: “He looked into her dark brown eyes and saw his sad reflection moping back at him.”

Try this: “Looking at her face for sympathy made him realize she started crying. His heart sank. Trying to find the words to say to her for the missing time made him focus on his own desperate reflection staring back at him through the streaking tears streaming down the curves on her face.”

Instead of saying he looked into her brown eyes and saw someone looking sad, we now have real emotion pouring back to the reader. And this is something I took out of my real work in progress, nothing I made up like usual.

More important: Which one sounds “real”? Which one would you rather read?

I’m not saying go back and re-write you WIP (work in progress) by any means…but if you happen to catch yourself writing something and feel emotion..

Make sure you READ the emotion as well.

-Chris

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4 thoughts on “Nano TwentyOne – “Personality”

    • Don’t worry about it at this stage in the game. You can go back during subsequent edits later and fill in the gaps as you re-read through portions of the prose. What I’ve found working well in my case is either read it out loud, or use a program like a cheesy text-to-voice translator to read it out loud to me…that way I can hear what it sounds like from a different perspective and change things later. Sometimes, even the obvious sticks out like a sore thumb in a month, when you read it to yourself today.

      • Great advice on hearing it read aloud. One way that I’ve found to turn the heat up on myself is to sit next to my girlfriend and read along as she reads it. It puts me in her shoes and helps me to realize when something is crappy or just plain doesn’t make sense.

        I will put my ‘on the nose’ revisions in the back of my mind with my ever growing series of continuity errors that will need to be unified eventually. It would be too frustrating to go back now!

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