Monday, January 20, 2014

CHARACTERS: Description

This week, my friend, Jenna Kernan, talks about Character Description! Jenna and I have also been friends for a long, long time. She's one of my favorite conference buddies, but the best thing about Jenna is that she comes up with the most wonderful, most unique story ideas! Unusual characters play a big part making her stories are so unique. She writes for Harlequin Historical and Harlequin Nocturne...Please welcome my friend Jenna Kernan!

by Jenna Kernan,


Lately, I've been trying to make the perfect triad of description.  For me that means a blend of physical appearance,  some trait or action that illuminates personality and some reaction, reflection or assumption made by the POV character based on what they see or hear appearance, trait.

·         APPEARANCE

·         TRAIT or ACTION                                              =  Perfect Description Triad



The following are examples of each one of the triad from by July 2014 Harlequin Nocturne release, THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF. 

APPERANCE:  Green eyes, pale and lovely as polished sea glass.

TRAIT or ACTION :  Both the boy and his sister ignored their parents in favor of their electronics throughout the meal. 

OBSERVER'S REACTION/REFLECTION/ASSUMPTION :  There was an energy about her, like a static charge that made his skin tingle as if her fingers stroked him. 

If you can get all three of the perfect triad into one or two sentences, you are really cooking.  Here's an example from, THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF, July 2014.

As he leaned in, (action)  she stared at his icy blue eyes (appearance) and in that instant she decided that she had made a terrible mistake (reflection). He was a soldier, hardened, heartless (assumption) and she would find no pity in his heart.

Another way to look at protagonists in a romance is to have one character describe/experience what the character looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like and, perhaps, tastes like.  This is a genre convention in romance.   Here are all five senses excerpted again from by July release, THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF.

LOOKS LIKE: If he were immune to her terrible powers, then why was he staring down at those soft green eyes, those parted pink lips?

FEELS LIKE:  Next he noticed the slender bones of her wrists and the silky-softness of her skin. 

SMELLS LIKE:  She smelled like a summer breeze off the Gulf of Mexico.

SOUNDS LIKE:  The voice was deep, commanding and totally unfamiliar. 


TASTES LIKE:  His tongue slid against hers, bringing a sweet rush of delight and the taste of strong coffee.


But descriptions can do much more than reveal appearance and personality and deepen the readers’ insight into the observing character.  They can also intrigue and raise questions.  Here's an example, again from THE VAMPIRE'S WOLF: 

Four long raised scars slashed across the right side of his chest.  One had missed his nipple by a hair's breadth. What had happened to him?

Remember to give enough details for the reader to be able to create a picture but not so many that they become bored.  So that's my triad, the five senses and an intriguing description, all in less than 500 words.  Thanks for reading and have fun!

For more articles on craft, visit my website:
Jenna Kernan
The Vampire's Wolf, July 2014, Harlequin Nocturne


Unknown said...

Thank you, Susan for inviting me to your wonderful site. I'm so happy to have a chance to meet some of your readers.
Let me also thank you for your introduction. You are a fabulous conference buddy as well, fun and upbeat. Fans might be interested to know that Susan is NOT a light packer. It would take two Sherpas to lift her conference suitcase and that is before she picks up any books!

Susan said...

That used to be the big joke in one of my writer's groups. That I had to have a room for myself and a room for my clothes.

But it's not all clothes, there are some shoes in there too! LOL