I’ve been doing a lot of serious discussion posts lately, so I thought I’d do one a little more light and fun this week. So…
Have you ever thought about how observant characters are? I mean, for everywhere they go they seem to notice all the different paintings on the walls, the types of plants, the pattern in the carpeting, and for every person they meet, they seem to notice everything from the color of his shirt to the shape of his nose.
I obviously understand why—we as readers need descriptions—so I’m not complaining about this. I’m merely poking a little fun because, you know how we sometimes talk about why we could never be book characters? Well, I could never be a character because everyone reading my book would never know what anything or anyone around me looks like.
That’s right, I’m about to share with you all my woeful lack of observation skills and then have a quick discussion about description in books, so here we go!
As Promised, Some Anecdotes about My Woeful Lack of Observation Skills…
I am TERRIBLE at remembering faces. You know how most people say they’re bad with names? Well I’m bad with faces. And names. I’m a double threat, guys. Watch out!
See, I’m observant of people in general, of what they think and feel and like and dislike, that kind of thing (which makes me sound creepy, but we’re all readers and writers, so I know you all know what I mean), but I’m really bad when it comes to being observant of what things and people look like.
When I started college, I got my roommate assignment ahead of time. It was an apartment with three other people, so we all friended each other on Facebook. I literally studied by going through all their pictures and making sure I could pick each of them out among the other people in the photos, just to make sure I’d be able to recognize them and tell them apart when I moved in.
During my first year of college, I was walking back to my dorm one day when I met a guy. We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up for lunch a few days or so later. That was when I realized I had no idea what he looked like. (In case you’re curious, I managed to find him and he turned out to be cuter than I realized, but we never saw each other again after that.)
I once thought someone was someone else because I had just recently met them both at the same place, and I basically just ended up confusing the crap out of him when I referred to something that he said… because he never actually said it.
I probably couldn’t tell you the eye colors of the friends I’ve known for 20 years.
I also have this weird tendency to think everyone is my height. And then sometimes I’ll see a photo and suddenly realize someone is actually an entire head taller than me.
Don’t even get me started on tattoos. I could probably tell you whether someone has tattoos or not, but I couldn’t tell you where or what they’re of.
The weird thing though is that I’ve gathered from other discussions that I’m apparently good at picturing characters in my head even though many other people are not. You’d think if my brain is good enough to create and imagine faces, it’d be able to remember them, but apparently not!
Now Let’s Talk Description!
Even though I’m sure you all have been highly entertained (or not) by my stories, I figured I should probably include some sort of actual discussion, yes?
As I mentioned above, I really am glad for description in books. There is definitely such thing as too much, but I like being able to get a clear picture of characters and places in my head.
For characters, generally the more detail, the better. It means I can make a better picture. It also means it’s less likely they’ll end up looking generic, as characters sometimes do in my head. And when the basic details, like hair color, aren’t even given, that just drives me nuts because my mind doesn’t know what to do and keeps changing the picture or making some blobby thing, trying to hold off getting too attached to anything in case it comes up later. But as I also mentioned above, I like to picture characters clearly in my head, so I don’t want them to be blobby.
For settings, there’s definitely such thing as too much description, but I still like to have enough if it’s a significant setting. Sometimes the setting can have a major impact on a scene or can set the mood for the whole book, but settings tend to fill themselves in more naturally without descriptions, for me at least. Sometimes less is more, and a well-placed detail can work wonders.
So my overall point is, it might not be entirely realistic for a character to notice all these things, but I’m ok with that since it’s for the good of the story.
*P.S. Ten points to anyone who caught the really vague Hey, Arnold reference that inspired the title 😛