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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Description - Love It Or Hate It?


Some people love long passages talking about landscape and foods and battles. This is the stuff many epic fantasies are made of. Westeros and The Shire are as much characters in their respective books as Jon Snow and Frodo.

On the other hand, thrillers go for the short minimalist approach. If I asked a fan for a description of Jack Reacher, any specifics, other than height, they would give me would come directly from their imaginations. Why? Because the only thing Lee Child says about Jack's physical attributes is that he's unusually tall.

Which is better?

Neither. Both. It totally depends on the purpose of your description. Are you conveying information? Mood? Setting? As a writer, you need to ask yourself, "What is the purpose of this description?"

What brought up this subject?

Alter Ego released her latest book last week. A reader sent her a note the day after the release, saying she loved it. That it made her feel as if she were in the heroine's shoes.

I realized something that had been bugging me for over a year.

The biggest gripe one of Alter Ego's editors had was that there was so little description of the heroine. She thought there should be more details of the heroine's physical appearance. Not just height, hair color and body shape, but those of her snatch and breasts as well. I resisted, though at the time I couldn't say why.

I mean, I had no problem with physical descriptions of secondary characters, and my written picture of the hero could have been used for a police artist's sketch.

But the reader helped me answer the description question. I put so little detail in these types of books because I know, deep down in my heart, that most women reading romance and erotica want to BE the heroine. By only giving a rough idea of the heroine, they could imagine themselves in her shoes, especially since I write these stories either in deep third person or first person POV. And I haven't written one from the hero's POV. (Yet.)

So how do you use description in your stories?


  1. Congrats on the release. Go Alter Ego.

    1. Thanks, Whisk! It took her a long time to write that one. LOL

  2. Good luck with the new release. In the early Jack Reacher books, Child did describe the big guy--blonde, blue eyes, height, musculature, hands, etc. I think after Reacher captured the imagination of the world's readers, he didn't feel the need to repeat anything. Height is more than a descriptive element anyway. It's iconic for the character. Btw, nice eye candy illustrating this post. *g*

    1. LOL Well, Joan, that shows how long it's been since I read The Killing Floor. The blond part obviously didn't register with me because Jack's a brunette in my mind. Hmmm. That begs the question--does a description really matter? Many James Bond fans would vociferously claim it does. *grin*

      And you're welcome for the eye candy!

    2. Ah, but is Jack a brunette in your mind because of all the hoopla over Mr. Shorty playing Reacher? If they wanted a brunette, they should have picked Karl Urban who has the height for the role. Let him pump iron for a month or so, and he'd be camera-ready for playing big, bad intimidating Reacher. Right?

    3. Oh,GOD, no! I had that image in my head LONG before Mr. Jumpy Couch was cast! I'd watch anything Karl Urban was in. :D (Still pissed Fox cancelled Almost Human BTW.) But no, if I'd been casting Reacher, my first choice would have been Sean Bean (ironically, a blond - LOL). That man scares me even when he's playing good guys.

    4. Michael Clark Duncan would have been great as Reacher. Shame we lost him.

    5. Love Sean Bean but never think of him as being excessively tall. Liam Neeson now would be a good choice for the older Reacher. Fox sucks. They always cancel the good shows.

      Duncan's passing was such a loss. Don't see him as Reacher because Mr. Duncan always seemed so touchy-feely, not unemotional like the Reacher character. Loved MCD in Finder. If you haven't see that series, check it out on NetFlix.

    6. I don't know about MCD, Stu Rat. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE his movies. I can watch The Whole Nine Yards over and over again just for his scenes. Sure, he was big and scary to some people, but to me, Michael is too...nice. Too sweet. Too cuddly. He's the guy next door who I'd want to have the 2.2 kids and the dog and the white picket fence with. Reacher will never settle down.

    7. Liam would work. He can be scary when he wants. But Sean is still taller than Mr. Jumpy Couch. LOL

    8. Everyone's taller than Mr. Jumpy Couch. :) Sean is 5'11", if I recall correctly.

      I'll watch Liam Neeson in just about anything. [eyes glazing over] Karl Urban is definitely an attractant as well.

      Angie, who's never read/watched the Jack Reacher stuff and has no relevant opinion about that [duck]

  3. Re: describing the woman in a romance, that was very much the thought back in the 70s and into the 80s, that the woman was a placeholder for the reader and should be as much of a blank as possible, mostly in describing the face. It can work, as you've experienced, but it got so it was firmly mandated by the publishers, and if ALL your main characters are these woman-shaped blanks gliding through their stories, it gets annoying.

    Although even during the height of the placeholder era, pretty much every book described the woman's breasts. :P I mean, okay -- again, it's something that can work. But society has taught us we should want big, round breasts with prominent nipples, so of course that's what all the women in romances looked like. And seriously, when the writer goes on for a whole paragraph (not kidding) describing some chick's tits, I get impatient. I'm not there for HER, dude, LOL!

    There was a fad for a while in historical romances for the POV character's waist to be so tiny she "didn't need" a corset, which is bullshit. [sigh] A corset's primary function is to support all the clothes worn on top of it. And even the waist-squishage wasn't as much as people think. I used to do historical re-creation, and a properly fitten, historically accurate corset didn't reduce your waist measurement all that much -- what it did was change the cross-section from an ellipse (wide axis side-to-side) to a circle. So looking at the woman from the front or back, her waist looked significantly narrower, but from the side it also looked deeper. We don't pay attention to that view, though, or if we do (or guys do) we're looking at the bust level rather than the waist. :)

    Anyway. [cough]

    But yeah, anyone can imagine having big, perfect tits and a tiny waist, and we're taught to want that kind of body. But in the eighties romance writers had to fight to get their publishers to allow them to describe the woman's face clearly, and to give her more than a flat, token personality. [sigh]

    It's not really a matter of everyone wanting to do it a certain way. It's that variety is good, and description, like everything else, should fit the story it's in.


    1. Now I want to see you in one of your re-creation dresses, Angie. *grin*

      The tendency to follow fads is one of the things that annoys me about publishers. I hate the NY version of the Borg collective in that regard.

      I started re-reading Red Phoenix's Brie Learns the Art of Submission over the weekend. It really drove the lesson home because Red has a pretty detailed description of her heroine. As you said, it fits the story Red is telling perfectly.

      With this book, this was me finally figuring out why I was so resistant to an editor's suggestion. Usually, I have a better idea of where my thought process is when I write a certain way. *wry smile*

    2. Unfortunately I was into that before I lost everything in '90. I don't have any pictures from that period. :/

      And major agreement about the NY Borg Collective (LOL!) being yet another problem with that end of the industry. Although the worst offender isn't in New York -- Harlequin is the one demanding X on page 65, Y on page 96, Z on page 128, etc. :P Talk about cloning your books.... [sigh]