Monday, October 19, 2009

Modern . . . Descriptions

Since last week we talked about beautiful characters, I figured I'd continue in a similar vein and talk about the particulars of a character's looks. I remember someone once complaining about all these gorgeous blond heroines. Then someone more recently added feisty redheads to their list of overdone descriptions. I figure next they'll take issue with the brunettes, right? LOL.

The problem is that there are only so many options, and that we have to use the same words to describe innumerable people. We're all either blond, brunette, or redhead. Sure, there are a gazillion shades, but if an author describes them too much, it gets into purple prose--or else we revert to words that people might not even know. Tell me, what's the difference between someone with chestnut hair and someone with auburn? Or raven versus ebony? Where's the line between golden blond and platinum?

I ran into an interesting problem with this recently. Years and years ago I wrote a contemporary aimed at the secular market which I knew when I finished it would probably never be published. It was too long, not a strict romance . . . but I liked my characters. The heroine was kinda Snow White-ish--black hair, fairest skin, rosy lips, and gray eyes. Right after finishing it, I started another book, this one aimed at CBA. For some reason I cannot now recall, I decided to make this heroine also have darkest-brown hair and silver eyes. Now, that is where the similarities end. The first was petite and curvy, the second tall and willowy, one and artist, the other a scientist. One talkative, the other all but a mute. I never expected this to be an issue, because I knew I'd never do anything with the first book.

Then last year I had the brilliant idea to snitch the characters from it and plop them down in a totally different plot with a Christian theme. The characters took to it well. No problems. And since I was now not doing anything with the other book with a similar heroine, it didn't much matter.

Except that a few weeks ago I decided to revive it. One of the first groans I encountered was that this heroine has the same description as the other. Which may not have been a huge problem had I not been targeting the same publisher. LOL. I tweaked her appearance so she didn't sound so stinkin' close to the other, but still it gave me pause.

Descriptions are tough things, and we writers give them a ridiculous amount of thought. Have I already had a blond heroine in this trilogy? Are my brunettes too similar? Should I give him brown eyes or blue? This one was tall and this one short, so should she be of middling height?

Does anyone really care? LOL. We go to great lengths to paint our readers a picture of our characters, but what it comes down to is imagination. My husband once argued with me about what one of my characters looked like. "She's brunette," I told him, pointing at the page. "See? Sarah's the blond one."

He just shook his head and said, "You might have written it that way, but you got it all wrong. Sarah's a redhead. Cadence is blond."

At some point, I just rolled my eyes and let him think that. =)


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