Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Description and Your Characters' Lens


I’m in what I think is the final round of revisions for my historical romance. I’ve said this before, but hopefully, it’s true this time.

I’ve been incorporating feedback from my critique partners, trying to eradicate nefarious narrative distance, and have found a group of local writers to serve as betas as I get closer and closer to the finish line (the finish line in this scenario is the querying phase).

One thing that came up after my betas read the first section of my novel was the need for more physical description of place and character – something both my CPs alluded to as well. Admittedly, description is tough for me – I find long passages of description boring as a reader and tend to keep the description in my own writing as concise and functional as possible. Especially in my historical romance, where many details are the result of conjecture despite the research I’ve done. Basically I'm terrified of getting my wrists slapped by a history buff for any assumptions I've made about the time period.

This is complicated by the fact that my heroine is already well versed in my story’s setting, so it doesn’t make sense for her to spend her “stage time” waxing on about the castle where she lives, the people she interacts with. They just are to her. Familiar. Taken for granted. A given.

But to my hero (and newcomer to this world), these things are worth mentioning as he takes in the sights and sounds and passes judgment on them.

Therefore I’ve created a rule for myself: In a character’s POV, the description is going to emphasize primarily new information.

Character ------> New Information

So, in my story, my characters will be focusing on different things in their POV scenes:

Heroine ----> hero and his men
(since she is already familiar with the setting)

Hero -------> heroine and setting
(since he is already familiar with his men)

What’s left over is context, exposition, backstory. As well as character's thoughts, emotion, and physical markers of emotion, which to me is different from physical descriptions of characters and setting -- the type of description I'm focusing on for this post.

Unlike a story in first-person, where all the information must reach the reader through one perspective, in dual-POV stories (like most romances published today) the choice of what is described, when, and by whom, can not only move the story forward but speak to character as well.

As I revise and look for places to reduce narrative distance and add description, I’m trying to keep in mind the notion that my characters will be more aware of others’ actions and their surroundings, and place less importance on their own actions:


Therefore, when I’m writing a scene from my hero’s POV, he might acknowledge the fact he smiles to some comment another character makes and leave it at that. But when the heroine smiles, he’ll pass judgment on that action, no matter how slight. Does her lip curl up? Can he see her teeth? Does it remind him of the kiss they shared the scene before?

Not only does this help me vary physical cues, but enhances my hero’s perspective (and by extension his character) and give me an opportunity to flesh out parts of my novel that need more description.

This is a subtle shift, but an important one for someone like me who tends to let the reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting in terms of fully visualizing scenes.

What ways do you use your characters’ lens to pass on information to the reader?

3 comments:

Lori M. Lee said...

Love how you've laid all this out. And really helpful for me as well! haha. I can't wait to revisit your characters :D

Jen McConnel said...

Wonderful post! I struggle with incorporating description, too: like you, I am easily bored as a reader, and I don't want to bore my potential audience. The idea of allowing your characters to focus on that which is different to them is great, and I'm sure this draft will be more rich and comprehensive than before.

Good luck on the final revisions before querying!

Cynthia said...

Thanks for stoping by! I've been struggling with this myself. My WIP is also first person. It's hard. With this work I'd like to let my readers use their imagination more, but they do need something to go on.

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