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Sources of Inspiration: Painting a Portrait of a Character With Words

Something I marvel at in other writers is their ability to bring a character to life in a few words that artfully weave their way into the plot, drawing attention to that plot as well as the character without distracting the reader. 

This is an art I’m told I’ve improved in. I can’t tell you how gratified I am whenever I get a compliment on my description. I’ve struggled long and hard to better it. I do have a tendency to become fixated upon eyes. Eyes are one of the first things I notice about a person when I see them up close. Eye contact is something I’m very shy about because when it happens, it can be so intense, so powerful. This power diminishes when overused, so I’ve been thinking about other character details; gestures, expressions which can create a mental picture. Elizabeth Bear did such a marvelous job of letting Robin Goodfellow express himself in his movements in Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth; the way he sat, kicking up his bandy legs, resting his head upon his hands; it took my breath away. Equally marvelous were the scenes in those books when Kit Marlowe explored Lucifer’s wings with his fingers. The sensuality of these moments didn’t just take my breath away, it made that breath steam up. 

Winding character description into background and plot is an art I’m hoping to develop, express, and explore further in my works. It’s a way of discovering my characters, learning more about them along with the plots they find themselves entangled within. 

What about you, dear reader? Do you struggle with description? Is there a particular part you struggle with? Have you figured out methods of coping with or overcoming your struggle? 


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