Coloring Your Descriptions (Bring Your Own Markers)

Something is different.M.png

You aren’t sure what, exactly, but something is definitely odd.  You peer around you, trying to place it. Everything looks how you remembered.  The sand is cool beneath your feet—wait, didn’t you have shoes a moment ago?—and you curl your feet around the miniature sand dunes.

The sun—no, there is no sun. A moon.  Three moons?  They’re bright, and if you hadn’t looked at the sky and spotted how many stars there are, you might have just assumed it was that twilight phase, between day and night.  But it appears to be night.

There’s a girl.  She’s standing nearer the shore, although you realize when you see the waves that you had no idea there was a beach here.  Silly. Why else would it be so sandy and cool?

The girl looks up, and when she spots you, her face lights up and she gathers up her skirt so she won’t trip over it as she runs towards you.  She’s barefoot, too.  Her dress looks like the sun—yellow and orange and too bright to look at it. It’s out of place, here in the moonlight.

“You made it!” she says.  “Doesn’t this look amazing like this?” She pauses. “I’m Ereinne.”

Oh. The loud one who talks too much.  You start to get a faint idea of what’s going on.

“We’re trying something different,” Ereinne says, already starting to babble.

Looking at her involves looking at her dress, which kind of makes your eyes ache.  You look at the ocean, instead.  The waves pull themselves up onto the beach, and release—again and again. Pull. Release. Pull. Release.

Soothing, actually.  You’re too far away to get your feet wet, so you just watch the water.

You realize Ereinne is still talking. Something about blog posts and trying something new and lots of fun.  Finally, she stops and looks at you—you can tell from the peripheral, because you still don’t want to look at her dress—and cheerfully says, “You’re stuck with me for this entire post.”

Honestly, you aren’t sure if you’re groaning or smiling.

“Well,” you say at last. “What are you showing me?”

“Description!” Ereinne cries, bouncing on her toes. How does someone even do that in the sand?  “You already noticed the beach, so let’s describe people.”

She bounces in front of you. Her dress glares at you. Your eyes sting.  “You see my dress?”

Well, yeah. How could you not?

When describing someone, describe them how you would notice them,” Ereinne says. “So my dress is the first thing you notice. But what do you notice next?”

Notice next! This dress was going to make you go blind!

Determined to not wander into the depths of blindness, you lift your face.  Ereinne has ringlets of dark brown hair framing her face—obviously styled.  Otherwise, the most noticeable thing is how startlingly blue her eyes are in her round face.

She nods, looking satisfied.

“See?” she asks.  “You just describe what’s noticeable, and don’t worry about describing everything. You didn’t need to describe that I’m average height, or that I have very nice ears.” She brushes her hair back to reveal an ordinary-looking ear.  “You also can describe extra details through action later on, but don’t bog us down with details!”

Or info-dump us with dialogue, you think dryly.

“So that’s how you describe people,” Ereinne says, still with the same cheerful tone you’re starting to think is her normal voice. “Now your surroundings!”

Rain clouds appear in the sky.  They look stormy, although it’s hard to tell—maybe they’re just dark because it’s nighttime.  The rain starts as a sprinkle, but slowly grows harder.   The lightning—

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA,” Ereinne interrupts.  “What are you doing?

You stare at her blankly.  You were…describing the rain clouds?

“No, no, no,” she says with an exaggerated head-shake.  “Firstly, never just describe something how it looks.”

Well…how else are you supposed to describe it?  Okay, you do know that you’re supposed to use all five senses when you describe something, but you don’t think you were doing that bad.

Ereinne keeps shaking her head.  “When you describe something, use all five senses—but also describe how it makes you feel.  Your emotions and feelings don’t just stop because you’re looking at something.”

Okay, fair enough.  You nod.

“You know what also doesn’t stop?” she asks.  You have no idea, so you wait for her to continue.  “The action,” she says.  “You think that you’ll just hold still while the author describes it?”  She snorts, as if this is the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard.  Try to mix the description in with the action, so the story doesn’t seem to just ‘pause’.  Now, you wanna try again?”

You shrug.

The rain clouds from before roll backwards in the sky, as if the weather is being rewound.  You stare at it a little wonderingly, and then—

Storm clouds blow in out of nowhere.  Abruptly, the air is heavy and agitated—staticky, even.  You can almost feel it rubbing against your skin uncomfortably.  The clouds obscure first one moon, then the other two, shrouding the beach in darkness.

You frantically search the beach for some kind of shelter, but it’s too dark to see.  What should you do?

The thunder catches you off guard, and you startle at the sound.  Ereinne yells something at you, but her voice is drowned out by the sound.

Behind you, the sky lights up with lightning.  You try to remember—what should you do when you’re caught out in a lightning storm?  Hide under a tree?  No, no, not that…

You start running down the beach.  No way are you just going to stand there and wait for the lightning to strike you.  When the rain starts falling, in heavy drops that sting a little when they hit your skin, you’re hardly surprised.  You are quickly soaked.

There is no shelter on this beach, anywhere.  What in the world are you supposed to do—

The weather freezes.  You stop, startled all over again, and look around you.  A lightning bolt is frozen in the sky, halfway through jumping from one cloud to another, and the raindrops are just hanging in the air around you, as if waiting for permission to continue falling.

You gawk.

“Wasn’t that so much more awesome?” says a voice behind you.  You turn, and there’s Ereinne.  She’s as sopping wet as you, but her grin is as bright as her dress.  “See, there was action and emotion and—okay, we did make it a really extreme storm, but you have to admit, it was awesome.

You just stare at her, and when you gather your words, you only have one question.  “What did you do to the rain?”

She waves her hand dismissively.  “Oh, I just paused it.”

“You—you paused the rain?

“It’s a blog post.  I can do whatever I want.  It’s not like I don’t break the fourth wall all the time.”

You continue to gawk.  She continues to smile widely.

“Well!” she says after a pause.  “That’s the end of this blog post.  I hope you enjoyed it!”

On Characters & Voices

We here at Studies in Character are all characters, right? That means, more than anybody else, we should know how to write characters. (And if we didn’t, then we aren’t very good at our jobs, aka being fictitious people.)

So today, I present—well, you can see the post title above. Kalvias gets to write today’s post because Morgan said so and I agreed, and it’s all about characters! Okay, Kalvias, the audience is ready.


Ereinne, why do you get to introduce every single post?

[Because I’m the blog’s spokesperson.]

The… wait. Since when?

[Since nobody else took the job! So there. Now. Talk, Kalvias.]

Whatever.

Um, hi. I’m Kalvias, and…

[KALVIAS, DON’T BORE THEM WITH DETAILS. JUST TELL THEM THE IMPORTANT STUFF ALREADY.]

Sheesh, Ereinne!

Okay, obviously, the first step to creating a unique character is to create a character.

How you do that is all up to you and your preference.

((An aside from Morgan:
I do it in five steps. The first step is to pick a “defining” character trait. Basically, if you were to describe the character with one word, it’d be that word. After that, flesh them out by figuring out their fear, secret, flaw, and quirk. That will give you a basic personality for you to work with.))

[MORGAN, STOP TAKING OVER OUR POST.]

Ereinne, stop yelling at everybody!

Anyway, so once you have a personality, theoretically, you can start writing. Often, though, you’ll just write whatever, and the character won’t be at all like what you imagined. Sometimes, they’ll come out all cardboard like, although sometimes they’ll get a better personality than what you planned. (That’s what happened to me; Morgan wanted me to be overly arrogant, and I decided I didn’t like that idea much…)

So this is what you have to do.

Remember that defining word Morgan mentioned? When you write the character, focus on that word. Channel it. (Okay, I have no idea how to channel it or what that means, but that’s what Morgan says.)

See, the thing is, authors all have their own, unique, distinct personalities. And they know their own personalities best, so when they go to write, what comes most naturally to them is…themselves.

[Geez, Kalvias, way to make authors sound self-centered.]

(Oops. I don’t think authors are all self-centered, I promise! I like authors. And I have quite a lot in common with my author. Though that might be why…)

Anyway, so the thing is. Each character, when well-developed, has their own personality. So you have to remember that, when you write them.

Who are they? How would they respond to this?

Theoretically, if you ask each character the same question, they’ll all answer it differently.

(For example, to reference my own companion characters. To one question, Cimizelle’s answer would be something that she’d have read in a book, but is probably not at all what real life is like. Tiri would say something contrary just for the sake of being contrary. And Saelas would probably just shrug, and if you did get him to answer, it’d be rather thoughtful.)

[Hey! Me, contrary? Never.]

[You’re being contrary now, Tiri.]

[Thanks for pointing that out, Ereinne. I had no idea. Saelas, stop laughing at me!]

So now that we got that part, Morgan told me to say to expect things to be really different than you planned, or maybe even than you wanted. Even when you have a really developed character in your head, it will be different on paper.

Which makes sense, obviously. We’re all our own people, and we’re going to act like it!

[But please, just because they act kind of panicky about certain things doesn’t mean you have to decide halfway through that the character is going to have PTSD.]

[Cev, I’m pretty sure that’s how all author decisions are made. Because we act a way, and they have to make us stay in line.]

Well, okay. I wrote a post now. Ereinne, would you please get off my case about it now?

[Okay, fine.
BUT YOU ALL, BASICALLY, REMEMBER THIS: WE’RE ALL UNNNNNNNIQUE.]

[Ereinne, I’m pretty sure they already understood that.]

How to Write Secrets and Drive up the Tension

My name is Cimizelle—

[But you all can call her Cimi.]

Ereinne!

[She hates that, you know.]

Both of you, be quiet.

I am Cimizelle. Don’t call me Cimi, because only my mother and Ereinne do that. Don’t call me Cim, either.

[Whoa, look who woke up in a bad mood?]

[Cim, stop glaring at everybody!]

Then all of you go away!

{a short time later}

Finally. I’m not introducing myself again, so you’d better remember what my name was.

I’m going to talk about secrets. Specifically, what secrets are, how they’re important, and how to use them.

Everybody has a secret, particularly fictional characters. Some secrets are big, and some secrets are small. Some characters have only one secret, and some have multiple. Some are simple, some are complex.

[Cimi is a secret, so she’s the expert on this topic.]

Ereinne!

What is a secret?

A secret is a piece of crucial, interesting, or damaging information that only one person (or a few people) know. Usually, the involved parties intend to keep it in its secretive state.

Simply, it’s a piece of information that somebody knows and nobody else does. The reason it stays a secret, or is fought to be kept a secret, is often related to why it was made a secret in the first place.

If my secret were that I was afraid of spiders, it could be a secret because I didn’t want to admit to having a weakness. Then I would want this to remain a secret for the same reason.

[Are you afraid of spiders, Cim?]

Of course not. Speaking of spiders, there’s one on your shoulder, Kalvias.

[Whoa! Wait, I don’t see a spider.]

[That is not funny, Cim!]

[You should have seen your face! That was hilarious!]

[Not funny.]

[Yes it was. Even Saelas is laughing.]

Secrets can be categorized into three types. Total secrets, reader secrets, and character secrets.

Total secrets

Only one or two people (often including the author) know this secret, and nobody else does. The reader doesn’t know it, fellow characters don’t know it, and sometimes even the protagonist doesn’t know it.

Plot twists usually fall under this category. There is foreshadowing leading up to the plot twist, but until it happens, usually only the author and maybe (but not always) one or two characters (but never the protagonist) know about it.

Reader secrets

These are the secrets that the reader is privy to, and so the information is kept secret from other characters.

[This is like when a character has a crush on another character, and the reader knows and ships it, but the other character is clueless.]

Well, I suppose. Another example would be when the reader gets a bit of information from one PoV character, and another bit from another PoV, and combined, they know something that the individual characters do not know.

Character secrets

These secrets are more rare, mostly because they’re harder to pull off. This is when a couple of characters know the secret, so it’s not a total secret, but the reader doesn’t know it.

The most common form of this secret is when several characters have a plan to do something—to get in somewhere, to get out of somewhere, etc.—but the reader doesn’t actually know what the plan is until they see it in action. Until the plan is unveiled, and as long as the reader doesn’t know, this is a character secret.

These secrets are difficult to write, mainly for two reasons. In deep PoV, it can often be jarring or awkward for the reader to know most things except for this secret. Secondly, it can be very frustrating to a reader to know that the characters know something they don’t.

The big difference between total secrets and character secrets is that with total secrets, the reader does not know there is a secret, whereas with character secrets, they are aware there is missing information, they just do not know what it is.

Why are secrets important?

First off, secrets are natural. Everybody has something they keep to themselves, whether it’s big or small. The reasonings depend on the secret—fear, embarrassment, something else.

From a writer’s (or reader’s) perspective, a character with secrets can be intriguing and raise questions. What is their secret? Why is it a secret? Does anybody else know? Will this get the protagonist into trouble? Is this secret important?

Raising questions is important (topic for another day), so secrets can be used as a tool.

Secrets also can create tension.

Example—Kalvias knows something I don’t. I know there’s a secret, and I’m hurt he doesn’t trust me. Every time we interact, I am wondering what else he isn’t telling me and if our friendship is falling apart. On his end, he’s (hopefully) guilty about keeping things from me, and sees that I am now not as trusting of him, and so there’s tension.

[I don’t like that example.]

Things to keep in mind when writing secrets

Secrets affect a lot more than just who knows the information

If someone has a secret, obviously the secret affects them. They may have to lie to keep the secret hidden, and depending on what the secret is, they may feel that they’re holding a burden.

But others are affected as well. Who is being lied to? Who suspects that there is hidden information? Who is being completely duped?

Secrets can create frustration in the reader

Frustration. It’s entirely too easy to get frustrated with secrets.

It might be fun for a reader to put together information or figure out a secret, but when other characters continue to remain oblivious, the reader can quickly become frustrated and wish to bang character’s heads together. Which isn’t always a good idea.  Or, alternatively, the reader can become frustrated because it is obvious that information is being withheld from them.

A Recap

~ A secret is hidden information.

~ There are three types of secrets. Total secrets, which is information kept secret from the reader and the main characters; reader secrets, which the reader knows/figures out, but other characters don’t know; and character secrets, which characters know and the reader does not.

~ Everyone has a secret, big or small.

~ Secrets can raise questions, create tension, or create curiosity, which is a tool that can be taken advantage of.


[I am not afraid of spiders.  I was just startled.]

[Don’t worry, Kalvias; Cimizelle will protect you from the spiders.]

The Importance of, and How to Write, Character Foils

TiriSaelasTiri here.  I’m cowriting this post with Saelas. Saelas, say hi.

[Hi.]

Ereinne is the talkative one of the Oracular group, but I like to talk, too.  I like to know what people think, especially.  Secrets drive me crazy.

Saelas, on the other hand, is perfectly okay with…not saying anything at all.  And being infuriatingly silent.  Even worse, when you ask him a question, he usually just shrugs.

Right, Saelas?

(…he just shrugged, in case you didn’t see that.)

[Actually, he’s trying hard to not laugh. And mostly failing.]

[Saelas, are you still breathing?]

[Don’t worry, he’s okay.  I have no idea why he found that so funny, but he’s okay.]

Ahem. I’m trying to write a blog post here, thank you very much.

[Sorry.]

Anyway, let’s get to the point.  Character foils.  Saelas is my character foil.

A foil is something that’s either “plain” or opposite from something else, creating a contrast that, in turn, highlights certain features in the other thing.  Basically, Saelas’s silence contrasts with my words, and in turn, it makes parts of my personality more noticable—such as how blunt I can be.

[She’s pretty blunt regardless.]

…thanks a lot.

The tricky part is making sure the foil contrasts the right features, and in the right way.  Is me seeming more blunt a good thing or a bad thing?

[Depends on who she’s being blunt to.]

Seriously?

[What? I’m not shrugging.]

Anyway, if it’s written wrong, Saleas could make me seem snappy and pushy and irritable.  (And apparently he does do that, anyway.) But done right, the contrast could instead show my better qualities.

[Turns out, Tiri’s very supportive and a little empathetic.]

So the first thing to making a foil is to figure out what needs to be contrasted.  You can’t contrast everything, and you can’t contrast and emphasize only good things, because the foil has to be a well-balanced character just as much as the character being foiled.

So for me, for the first part of my story, I am pretty irritable and unlikable—so I need a foil to let the reader know I actually wasn’t miscast as the protagonist when I should have been the antagonist.

[Sourpuss, actually.]

Saelas.

[Sorry.]

Okay, I was a sourpuss.  Anyway, Saelas is introduced into the story halfway through to show that I can be more than just an obstinate antihero who’s more willing to pick a fight than follow my “destiny”.  So by not speaking more than he has to, and sometimes not even then, Saelas forced me to talk instead.  (Dialogue does great at revealing characterization, apparently.  That’s for another post, though.) And by being shy and continually trying to fade into the background, Saelas forced me to stand up for him. Well, sometimes.

Here’s the important part, though. A foil character does not create traits in another character.  It only brings attention to what’s already there.  So if I really was completely dispicable to the core, Saelas’s existence wouldn’t make a difference. (At least, not as a foil.  As my love interest or something, he could maybe inspire change in me, but that’s a different discussion and totally irrelevant here.)

Why are you snickering?

[Nothing. Continue on.]

As I was saying, the traits have to be there.

Another thing about foils is they can be used to contrast other things besides characters.  The key is the contrast, right? So what if there were contrasting settings? Or a subplot to contrast the main plot?

Even better, emotions can be used to contrast each other.  That’s a trick to make bad things that happen seem worse—first, contrast it with something especially good or funny.  If the reader’s laughing, and then the horrors happen, it’s even more shocking and horrifying.

(Unfortunately, it doesn’t really seem to work the other way around.)

Foils also work both directions.  Saelas is my foil, but I’m also his. That horrifying scene also probably made that funny scene prior to it seem all the more nice.  With two contrasting settings, they both contrast each other.

Foils work best if they serve a particular purpose.  You can contrast all the things you like, but for what purpose?  The purpose can be anything—for me, the purpose is making me more likable.  For that horrifying scene, it’s to, well, make it more horrifying.

But don’t just contrast for the sake of doing it.  It’s a tool, so use it like one.

So that’s a foil. To sum it all up: a foil contrasts certain elements/traits; it doesn’t create features, just emphasizes them; it works both directions; and they work best if used for a purpose.  Remember those, and writing a foil should be easier.


[Believe it or not, Saelas usually talks less than this.  I think the only reason he talked this much this time was because it was to Tiri.  Don’t tell anybody, but he likes her.  Hence all the teasing.  REMEMBER, THAT’S CLASSIFIED INFORMATION.
…I always wanted to say that. BUT SERIOUSLY.]