Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Writer’s (Not So) Small Choices Part 2

Today we’re continuing our exploration of the (not so) small choices a writer makes in developing characters. Yesterday, we focused on names. Today…appearances!

I did not give Clare long, red, beautiful curls because I wanted a stunning redheaded model to be on the cover of my book. Though that was a pretty side effect. No, the reason I gave Clarity red hair was because she’s a girl who wants to blend into the background, so I had to make her stand out in every way. She’s the town psychic, the freak, the one others point at and whisper about. So I wanted her to attract attention physically, too. And it helps that her fiery red hair matches her equally fierce temperament.

For the rest of the Fern family, I could’ve had Clare look like her missing father and Perry look like their mother. But it served my purposes in the story to have it the other way around. Perry, a young man who looks just like his father, is a constant reminder to Starla of her long-gone husband. And Starla, looking like an older version of her daughter, makes Clare think about her own future and whether she wants to be giving readings to tourists thirty years from now. The characters' looks add to their internal conflicts.

I put a great deal of thought into a character's appearance. Before we really get to know a character, what makes them tick and motivates them, we generally get that first glimpse, just like in real life. You see someone and you form your first impression. That first impression is probably way off, but when writing, you need to lead the reader in the right general direction.

How my characters look is a sneak peek at what makes them tick. For instance, in CARRIER OF THE MARK, I gave Rían slightly long, unruly hair, he has dark eyes that burn into you, he always has his motorcycle helmet and leather jacket. His protective clothing sort of emulate his desire to protect the world from his power, while also using them as a screen to hide his more vulnerable side from the world.

Dawn Metcalf, LUMINOUS
I was very clear on what Consuela looked like in this world and in the world of the Flow. She was short, fat and curvaceous with a wide, broad smile and dark skin. Early descriptions of her were that she had "cantaloupe breasts" and a "big, bubble butt" that she flaunted in the changing room mirror. As a skeleton, I wanted her to be beautiful and not scary, which is why her bones were pearly and almost hypnotic, glowing and luminescent. I thought about it being a slightly pinkish mother-of-pearl or abalone sheen. She wasn't a Halloween prop, she was the Lady of the Dead ala Dia de los Muertos: beautiful and powerful and otherworldly.

Brigid Kemmerer, STORM: Book 1 of the Elemental Series
Hunter, one of the male leads from STORM, has a white streak in his hair that's natural. I totally got the idea from a girl I went to high school with who had a birthmark on her head, which led to a naturally different colored streak through her blond hair.

Leah Cypess, MISTWOOD
In the original version of MISTWOOD, Isabel's hair was brown. I chose brown deliberately, because it seems like a neutral, unremarkable color, and contrasted so well with the blond color she chose to shift her hair into when she wanted to make an impression. But then somewhere between revisions 3 and 4, I was talking to my editor, and she said, "Oh, we've found a picture for the cover, and the girl has reddish-brown hair. I don't think it matters, because Isabel's a shapeshifter, but if you want you could change the color of her hair throughout."

I thought it mattered, and I did go and change her hair color. But it wasn't as simple as search-and-replace, because auburn is a more specific color than brown; whenever I used it, I felt it drew attention more than "brown" had. As a result, I removed the color description from Isabel's hair in many places, so that it wouldn't feel overemphasized. And also because, in at least one place, I felt it would be a too-significant clue to a crucial plot point. (Those who have read the book might be able to guess what I'm talking about; it's on page 248.)

I loved collecting these writer secrets and I hoped you enjoyed reading them! Share your thoughts in the comments!

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