Welcome to the blog of author Tricia Goyer!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Avoiding information dump in character descriptions!

Someone recently emailed me through my website and asked about how I describe my characters without going into lengthy descriptions. After all, if you are in a character's point-of-view you won't go into long descriptions of their hair, their clothes, etc.

I have nine novels published and two more that will be out this year. Personally, I use very small traits to describe point-of-view characters. For example:

"She tucked a strand of her curly hair behind her ear."

That's a simple example, but there are other ways to give hints of what the character looks. I try to stay in my character's point-of-view as closely as possible, and I only show things through their eyes/thoughts.

One way to share description is to relate how other people react to my character. For example, this is a few paragraphs near the opening of my book, A Shadow of Treason. The point-of-view character is Deion.

"They pressed on to what Deion assumed was the door to the basement. Though it was still in its frame, it was twisted and crushed. Cautiously he pushed against it, gaining mere fractions of an inch with each groaning effort. When he could finally see past it, four faces peered up at him. Two women, a young girl, and a baby blinked at him, as if trying to focus. Deion didn’t know if their wrinkled brows were due to the sunlight or the color of his skin. They’d most likely never expected a colored man to rescue them, especially after hearing the horrible tales of the Moors from Africa who fought with the Nationalists.

The woman studied Deion’s face for a moment, then slowly blinked her eyes and handed him the baby. He snuggled the sleeping child to his chest, and a warmth surged through his frame. He’d never felt more alive."

This shows that Deion is a colored man, and someone the other character's aren't expecting.

Here is another example of how I described the priest, Father Manuel. (All these examples are from A Shadow of Treason.) You can see how I slid in a few descriptions in with the action:

"The man motioned toward the steps of the council building, and they walked toward it. He turned and sat easily, while Father Manuel slowly lowered himself, feeling twice as old as his thirty years. Then the man pulled out two apples from his jacket pocket and handed one to the priest.

Father Manuel took the offering as his stomach rumbled. Without hesitation he silently mouthed a prayer of thanks and took a large bite, the sweet moistness filling his mouth. He wiped away the juice that escaped down his chin."

And here is one more:

"Ramona clung to the wooden sideboard of the canvas-covered truck as it chugged along the hilly road toward Bilbao, transporting injured soldiers to safety. The vehicle lurched to avoid a pothole, and she clung tighter, noticing that even though her hands looked red and raw from constantly scrubbing up for surgeries, her gold wedding band still sparkled in the light shining through the open back canvas."

This tells that Ramona is a nurse and married, without stating it outright.

As you can see, bits of description can be adding in to the story without it feeling like an information dump. I'd love to see an example of your writing. Leave it in the comment field.


Research Papers said...

I came across your blog and all I can say is:whoa! I always dream of becoming a novel author and since I'm still studying, all I can do now is do my research papers on fiction writing. Please post tips and how to's in your blog. Thanks.

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