Friday, May 17, 2013

Describing Through Character's Interests

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

In my last few posts, I talked about different ways to describe. This isn't your typical description, but a way of getting deeper through writing scenes in different ways. I talked about writing scenes with different overall emotions for your main character, and I talked about writing scenes from different points of views. 

Today I want to take the point of view angle a little further. Who your point of view character is will affect how he or she describes things. This is not a new concept. But I think it's one of those concepts that we know, but don't usually find a lot of time to put into practice. So here are some ways to get into your character's head and see what he sees.

What does he own? What's on his desk? Under his bed? In his closet? If he has his own bathroom, what's on the counter? Is he neat or messy?

What thrills him? Hobbies? Interests? Addictions? Favorite foods or movies or video games?

What about his moods? What does he do when he's happy? Sad? Does he eat food when he's sad? Does he dress in certain clothes when he's feeling lazy? Any strange habits?

Now, take all this knowledge and send him to a house he's never been to before. As he looks around the place, what does he notice first? What do his eyes linger on? These things tell the reader a lot about who he is. This is getting deep.

For an example, I'll use two brothers from Captives and how each described the office of the task director general.


Omar: The rectangular room had a shiny wooden floor, sparse chrome and red suede furniture, and floor-to-ceiling windows on three walls. Clean, sharp, simple — minimalist design. This was another reason the Safe Lands intrigued him. So much beauty and architecture. There was none of this in Glenrock. Until Omar had visited the Safe Lands, he’d never seen anything from the Old art books Levi had given him.

Mason: Mason pushed open the door and entered what felt like a modern palace. The room was furnished in black and red, with hardwood floors and windows that wrapped around three walls, exposing a vast view of the valley below. Mason felt like he was walking among the clouds.


Omar, a guy who's obsessed with riches and art, spends more time looking around. He notices color and design. He likes what he sees. Mason is thinking about other things. He notices the room, of course, but ends on how it makes him feel.

And there are more differences about these two brothers. If Omar and Mason walked into my house, Omar would notice the movie shelf right away, and the video games. He'd be looking to entertain himself. Mason would notice the mess. The clutter. He might hope no one in my family had a dust allergy. And he would probably start asking questions about the electric muscle stimulator sitting on out kitchen table. We borrowed it from a friend when my husband pulled a muscle in his back.

So, try this with your characters. What types of things do they notice when they enter a new place or meet a new person (as this works with describing people too). What do their eyes linger on? What intrigues them?

Be sure and hop over to the Playlist blog, where Stephanie is giving away a copy of the Go Teen Writers book at the end of her super cool interview with Rachel, who won the "Respect Your Dream" essay contest, and Rachel's writing partner, Keely.

13 comments:

  1. This is something I've been trying to incorporate but always seem to forget to! When I'm concentrating on plot, character, voice, dialogue, etc, description and the little details seem to get brushed to the side. This is exactly what I needed -- have bookmarked for future reference :)

    Thanks Jill!!!

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    1. Also, random question: is anyone on the online critique site Figment? I just joined and I'm curious :) what have your experiences been? Is it good? Any recommended groups to join?

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    2. You're welcome! I forget at first too. I usually add all this during my rewrites.

      And I've not heard of figment.

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    3. Yeah, I've used it for school and personal-writing purposes. I've never been very active on it though, as I made the mistake of using my full name and I don't want to put inferior work up there (my Figment account is one of the first search results that comes up when I Google myself). One of my friends really likes it, though.
      After a while, I found the emails every few days rather annoying. And practically all of the contests are "heart-based," meaning unless you have a thousand followers, you will not win. I did like, though, how you can follow people and how they have groups and such.
      -Katia
      The teen writing site that I use is TeenInk. I really like it. My username's Katsk, if you're interested.

      Both can be really helpful, though. I'd suggest using the forums, on either.

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    4. Thanks Katia! I'll look into TeenInk :) and don't worry, thanks anyway Jill x

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  2. Wow, I've never known description to be so deep before! Super helpful!

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  3. Ooooh, interesting! I honestly don't think about my description very often, so thank you! Practicing with this could also be a way to learn about the character, couldn't it? :)

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    1. Yes, it can. I usually don't get to this until my rewrite stage, and once I start doing this, it really helps me find my character's voice.

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    2. Hmm, that's even more good to know now, because I happen to be in the rewrite stage...:)

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  4. This is great! I will need to put it into practice for sure.

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  5. Oh, that's really interesting.

    My old English teacher used an acronym to describe characters, called STEAL (Says, Thoughts, Effect on others, Actions, and Looks). I've started using it to help characterize my characters. Kinda random, but I thought it was relevant.
    I've got to use this sometime! And thanks for alerting us about the giveaway.
    -Katia

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  6. Ugh that is soooo true! I want to run through this with like every single one of my characters now! Definitely a great way to get deeper. And seeing things from other points of view or even thinking about it even if they aren't going to have their pov written is great. I will definitely hop over to that blog and enter :) Thank you so much Ms.Jill!

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