Welcome, fellow authors! Today, continuing my series on character description, I wanted to discuss point of view and how it affects the picture a reader receives of any given character.
The idea to keep this series of posts going came to me thanks to Michael Eidson, a fellow fantasy writer who commented yesterday on how POV affects description.
Who your narrator is, and what limits you impose on him or her, definitely impacts how he or she describes people. Michael noted:
I think the way an author approaches character descriptions depends on the type of POV used in the story. When writing from an unrestricted omniscient POV, an author can describe just about anything at his or her leisure. Writing from a limited third- or first-person POV and describing something that can’t be viewed by the POV character could be more jarring to the reader.
Reflecting on this observation, I realized I had issues with a description in my current WIP, “The Esclavan Abductions.” I wanted to share it with you and dissect it, showing why I will need to edit it heavily.
Which is fine. It’s only a first draft, after all, and my delete key could use a solid workout 🙂
Anyway, Here’s the description. Narration is third person limited, from the point of view of a sorcerer named Zate; Danby is Zate’s best friend and an old school friend.
Zate hadn’t noticed Danby Lanteen walk in. By the look of things, Danby didn’t notice the common-dressed noblewoman sitting across from the sorcerer.
Danby’s sandy hair wasn’t long, but always looked disheveled. He was a swordsman, and his muscular limbs and broad chest hinted as much. He was handsome enough, Zate supposed, now that he had grown a bit into the nose and ears that had been large enough as a child to draw jokes. His voice held the typical crisp notes of a Podrar native.
Okay, I’m a big proponent of authors focusing not only on what needs improvement, but also on what we do well. If you can’t pick out what works in your writing– even in scenes you will need to change heavily or even cut– your self-esteem and motivation will dip through the floor.
As bad as it is, there are a few of things I like about the description above, as much as it needs fixing up.
- I like how the comparison between Danby as a child and Danby now reflects Zate’s lifelong friendship with him. I don’t want to lose that when I edit.
- I like how Danby’s hobbies/profession (he’s weapons master at a school) realistically impact his build.
- I like what disheveled hair hints about Danby: he doesn’t worry too much about combing his hair, he has other concerns.
That said, there are LOTS of things that don’t work at all where this description is concerned. And most, if not all, of them are related to point of view.
The point of view, remember, is Zate’s. Here are some trouble spots:
- While I imagine Danby as somewhat handsome in a goofy kind of way, I seriously doubt his best friend would be considering such things. Zate wouldn’t care about that at any point, really, but especially not when he’s in the middle of a discussion with a noblewoman–one he kind of likes–about having been attacked by three masked men earlier that day. (That’s the setting in which the description falls)
- Zate knows Danby well. Sees him all the time. He wouldn’t notice that Danby’s hair is disheveled if it’s always that way. He would simply note internally, if anything, that Danby looks how he always does.
- I could break things up by remarking on Danby’s voice after he speaks his first line (which directly follows) rather than before.
- As much as I like the “Danby then, Danby now” comparison, I don’t feel this is the moment for it, based on the overall flow of the passage.
POINT OF VIEW TO THE RESCUE
What I think will make things easy for me is that I have two point of characters in my novel: Zate and the princess. The princess ends up meeting and approving of Danby, so a lot of the physical description could come more logically from her.
Of course, that means the readers will have met Danby before getting all the details. I’m fine with that, though. I’ll just need to give people a general concept of who Danby is from Zate’s POV.
Zate mentions Danby’s profession as weapons master during the scene this bad description falls in, so that will go a long way to hinting that Danby is toned and in good physical shape, if nothing else.
I hope this bit of a case study/ example proves helpful in some way…. It always helps me to see a point about writing demonstrated and not just said.
What are your thoughts about POV as it relates to character description? I thought Michael’s assessments were dead on, and I’m glad I had them at the back of my mind when I got to reading my description of Danby!
If you enjoyed this post and didn’t catch yesterday’s–a quickfire guide to character description–you can find it here.
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