Lately I’ve been perusing the internets for a good book. I find a lot of books by indie authors (on Goodreads, Google +, and Twitter), and most of the time, I will click on the link and read the first page to get a feel of the author’s style. There have been at least three instances in the past week where I made a decision not to purchase a book because there was an onslaught of character description.
I won’t name names (I never do!), but here is an example of something I ran across:
“Jamison, when are you going to marry me?”
“Girl, you wish!”
Denise folded her skinny arms and whipped her sexy, black hair cut towards the window, so much so that her boyfriend, with his almond colored skin and mustache that looked like a handlebar, scratched his Mohawk and furrowed his pecan colored eyes in confusion, all while whipping his long, muscular arms in the air as the waitress, who had long, blonde hair and eyes so red she looked like she’d been crying, and a stain on her uniform that looked like coffee but very well may have been tea, walked by and offered them some more lemonade.
“I don’t want any lemonade!” Denise said in a huff, and as the waitress left the table (also in a huff), she realized that she was on rollerblades, pink rollerblades with little flashing lights at the bottom, in every color of the rainbow.
She looked at Jamison across the table. Although she was mad at him for not wanting to marry her, she laughed because he was still whipping his arms in the air. Oh, how she’d always loved those arms! In fact, that’s what had drawn her to Jamison in the first place, the fact that he looked like a basketball player, and would have been one if his five foot nine frame had only been taller and if his mother, with her dark red hair, plus sized body, hazel nut eyes, and girlish smile, had only allowed him to leave their house, which was blue, not quite decrepit but getting there, and owned by his grandmother, who was sick and shut in, but still managed to gamble away the family’s fortune through online slot machines….
Obviously I had some fun here (tehe), but I think you get my drift: too much description can definitely be a killer.
When it comes to describing my characters, my personal preference is not to be too heavy-handed (I also don’t mind light description when I’m reading because my imagination fills in the gaps). I don’t describe every single character as they are introduced on the page because I think it reads a bit too much like Writing 101: Insert Description Here. I do describe the main characters, not just by giving what Sol Stein calls “Movie-house ticket taker” description: I try and tie the physical description with a trait that reveals something about the character’s personality or life: something that will (hopefully) add another layer to the character. Is the character beautiful? Well, this might be important if she often uses her beauty to get what she wants in life. Does the character have a strange birthmark? Well, that might be helpful when she sees a news article about a kidnapping that happened thirty years prior (and a picture of the stolen baby with the same strange birthmark…).
Or sometimes, I might just say, “The lady walked into the room. She was wearing a hat.”
Of course, everything depends on the story and genre, but I don’t think there’s a need to describe every single character (especially nonessential ones), and when we do describe characters, I don’t think there’s a need to go overboard with the description.
What about others? As writers, what’s your approach to character descriptions? And as readers, what are your likes and dislikes?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!