Squawk Radio

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Eloisa Thinks about Creating Character

Here the Squawkers have been dining with firemen, and stabbing ourselves with forks, and fending off snakes . . . but I (she said virtuously) have been starting a new book, the fourth in my series about the Essex sisters.

The only thing better than beginning a book is ending one. In the beginning, because I'm not a synopsis-writer, it's all panic, excitement and pleasure. Anything could happen. All sorts of things do. I had a vague idea of where I was going with Josie's story, but a bunch of new characters popped up in the last few days.

So I was thinking how hard it is to create an image of a character that will stick in the reader's mind. Of course, we can lovingly describe every muscle the hero has to his name, or the heroine's silky lashes, silky hair, silky breasts...all of it. There's a great poem by Marvell telling his lover that he would praise her breasts for two hundred years: sometimes it feels like that when you're writing romance. A hundred years for each breast, and two hundred more for all the rest.

Well, given our strict publishing schedules (grin), all that chest description doesn't leave too much time to describe secondary characters. So it has to happen fast. I was looking around for help the other day and came across Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. She does it brilliantly.

Here's a priest:

"a wrinkled, elderly man with a hairless face and brown, dead curly hair that looked like a wig."

A girl:

"Ruth Bent had red-dish-brown frizzy hair...her voice was deep, like a man's; her skin was swarthy and freckled...she had a good figure, small, with a sort of shimmying movement to it."

And here's a hero. She's talking about her father's family (and expect a rendition of this to show up in some future hero of mine!):

"Nevertheless, there was a wild strain in the family. The men were extraordinarily good-looking, dark and black-browed as pirates, with very fair skin and queer lit-up gray-green eyes, fringed by the 'McCarthy eyelashes,' long, black, and thick."

So here's a challenge:

Pick a public figure. any public figure, but not one with the plastic beauty of a movie star, because that's hard to describe. Give us One Good Sentence. And then tell us who is, so we can all revel in your description.
Eloisa James, 4:33 AM