Thursday, December 27, 2012

On Writing: Character Writing Over the Long Haul

As we start going further into the New Year, I thought it would be nice to do a new On Writing piece. I looked through all of the books I've read, even considering doing a "Worst Read of 2012", but the books I've read have varied not just in the years they were published, but also in themes and overall feelings from books. Looking at the three bookshelves I have scattered (soon to be four thanks to a very thoughtful Christmas gifter,) looking at all the covers, the thought finally came to me. And after reading the final book by Rachel Aaron, it couldn't have been more obvious.

In the Legend of Eli Monpress books by Rachel Aaron, there are four main characters. There is Eli Monpress, the greatest thief in the world who can speak to spirits where others can't. There's Josef Leichten, a spirit-deaf warrior with the strongest sword in the world. There's Nico, a child like woman with a demonseed in her that makes her powerful. And then there is Miranda Lyonette, a spiritualist with the backing of powerful spirits. All of these characters are extremely interesting, each with their own innate stories and flaws. That's all well and good, but the problem with all of this is this: I don't know what any of these characters look like.

Now I've looked to make sure, and the only time the characters are ever given an in depth visual description is in the first book when they are introduced. Other than that, the most they ever say about them is that Nico is small with a black cloak, Josef is tall and powerful with a bunch of knives, and that Miranda wears a bunch of rings. After reading the books over the course of the last two years, I don't remember what these characters look like, and that is a void in the characterization in my opinion.

I know it might sound like I'm picking on Rachel Aaron, but I assure you, this is a broad generalization about a plethora of books in the fantasy genre. While reading Jim Butcher's Cold Days, the latest in the Harry Dresden series, I found myself being reminded about scars the character has accumulated that I don't even remember, and honestly, if it weren't for the more than consistent cover art depicting the character himself, I wouldn't know what he looks like either.

It seems that writers are picking the bad habit of taking the most iconic of looks that summarize their characters and leaving the rest up to imagination for readers. Now i know, reading is about using your imagination, but there's a template we're supposed to work from. Nobody expects a long, power-rangers-esq scene where a character is described, but there's a moment when you have to look at your work and think, "Do I even know what this character looks like anymore?"

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