During the first year of my first writing course, the Novel teacher set us students an in-class assignment to pick a fellow student, write a description of them the way we would if they were a character in our book and then read it aloud. Then everyone had to try to guess which student was being described.
There were a few rules:
*Before we started, we spent an uncomfortable and lengthy minute looking around the room, deciding who to write about and absorbing as much as possible about their appearance as we could but without staring and giving away our hand before we’d even begun writing.
*After that uncomfortable and lengthy minute, we weren’t allowed to look at the person we were writing about again during the creative process in case it ruined the guessing game we were shortly about to play.
*We couldn’t write a description that was too obvious. If there was only one boy in a blue shirt, then it wasn’t going to be much of a challenge guessing who he was.Continue reading
There are three types of authors when it comes to character description and, just like Goldilocks and her porridge, only one of them gets it just right. Of course, this means the other two provide way too much information or not nearly enough. It’s a fine line. It’s also difficult to please all readers in this area because some prefer a lot of description in order to have a comprehensive image of the character in their mind and some prefer the bare minimum so that they can do some of the imagining for themselves.
So does it matter what they look like? I’m going to use a few Shakespearean examples to answer the question. (Shakespeare’s plays are usually a great example of everything to do with writing.) Sometimes it doesn’t. In Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves play the brothers Don Pedro and Don John. While Don John is described as a “bastard”, an illegitimate son, there is no mention of any specific cultural characteristics so Branagh decided to give his version of the story one black brother and one white brother. However, it’s the illegitimacy of the second son that is relevant, not his different skin colour.Continue reading