Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hero and Heroine ~ Making an Entrance

It is commonly referred to as making a stage entrance when an actor / actress steps out onto the stage or on-screen in the persona of their character. The audience is given the first glimpse at the character's physical appearance. Their costume reflects the period, as does their hair, makeup, and the setting surrounding them.

It's much the same
with writing the novel. When your hero and heroine make their first appearance, you want to give your readers the building blocks that create a mental image in their mind's eye. Begin at the opening of the book. Deftly weave their image into the narrative. Mention it in dialogue. Let your reader see them from the eyes of the one that is destined to love them. You want your readers to be drawn into your character in order to care about him/her, just as much as you want them drawn into the story. Without living, breathing, characters, a story will fall flat.

You ask how can one do this without being overly descriptive, or what is commonly referred to as 'wordy'. Here are a few things to do.

First, write out the description, whether in a notebook or a character chart, as if you are meeting your character for the first time and looking straight at him/her. Here is one I wrote, loosely based on my husband.

He's not a tall man, but towers at least four inches over me. He has the most interesting shade of brown eyes, gold like autumn wheat, and when he laughs little crinkle lines form in the corners. His hair is the same shade, but I've started noticing he's getting a lot of gray. His nose is Romanesque. His jaw strong. His lips are full, and when he smiles he has dimples in his cheeks. At age fifty-five, he weighs about one-hundred and ninety pounds. His legs remind me of a Greek statue, firm and muscular, and I envy him in the fact he has no hair on his calves.

Now, when you are doing the actual writing, do not give your reader a long paragraph describing your character. Break it up. For instance, when your heroine first sees the hero, she might lock first onto his eyes. Most people do. You write what she sees. There follows some dialogue and when he laughs at a comment she makes, you describe the crinkles in the corners of his eyes, or the way his cheeks dimpled. He strides to his horse, or his car, and she notices his built, the way he swings up into the saddle, or into the front seat.

Some charts have everything lumped together, from physical descriptions to occupation. In my writing notebook, you could break the categories down into sections. Here's a site that offers a printable pdf version of a character chart that is broken down into sections.

Which ever method you use, the goal is to flesh out your characters in your description of their physical appearance, in their actions, their speech, and their motivations.
Is there another method you use for fleshing out your characters?
As a reader, when you are reading a novel, what things stand out to you the most that help you visualize the characters?


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rita -

I've seen the character charts, but they give me a headache. My latest MC's features came to me as I was writing. I saw a dear member of my family and realized with a couple of small adjustments she was perfect for my MC.

Susan :)

Carla Gade said...

What a good post, Rita. It is quite a difference, that stage entrance and the meet. But I think writers would like to have that same applaud when the character first appears on our stage.

I like using character charts because they help me remember the details. Though, I do like what you do with narrative to give you a once over on the character. If you can see that person in your mind, as you say, it transfers better to your writing. I'm a visual person and like to find images of my characters or their clothing, etc. to help me with their descriptions.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow, those are great tips, Rita! I don't usually flesh them out and tend to discover their looks as I'm writing. But I do like to tie their looks into their personality somehow, either as similar or contradictory. :-)