Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Writing Exercise

The question arose on ERWA writer's list about how
much detail is enough, or too much, because a writer
was criticized for not sketching his
characters fully enough for that reader.

In erotica, we're building fantasies, but the reader
has to bring something to the table - their
imagination. Words are simply words until the reader
invests something of themselves into the story. It's the
reader that makes a story hot. So does the reader need
to have the vital stats on the characters? You know - hair,
lips, eyes, height, weight, cup size....

Some readers seem to need that hand holding, but I hate writing
like that. I don't think that hair color tells anything about
the character. I'd rather flesh out the picture in other ways.

That got me thinking about an exercise in writing. I
wondered if I could paint a picture in a reader's mind
without resorting to the vitals.

What if I were to describe the character by his/her
body language? As a starting place, I was thinking
back (way, way back) to high school and my Mom when
she came into my bedroom and saw that I'd painted
large rainbows on my walls.

(And no, this isn't erotica. Ew. It's my Mom, fer chrissakes.)

The raw (read: no rewrite) version:

My bedroom door bounced against the wall as Mom shoved it
open. Every feature of her face pulled in tight, from her
incredible disappearing lips to the skin around her
hard eyes. Underneath the pads of her suit jacket, her
shoulders were back and her arms were folded over her
starched white blouse. The toe of her black pump
tapped beside the can of red paint. Both eyebrows rose and
then settled like a dark cloud on the horizon.

My question is: can you see her? Can you see her well
enough that hair color is irrelevant?

Would it help if I quoted the first words out of her

"This better not cost me money to fix."

Do you have a better picture now?

(Yeah, Mom is quite the cuddly type.)

Does it add anything to slip in the information that
at the time she was being a blonde, her eyes are
hazel, she's 5' 5'', and is medium build? Or are you
willing to go with the picture your imagination threw
together - which may resemble your Mother when she was
pissed off.

Let me know.


Anonymous said...

Excellent point, very well put.

When I used to edit an erotica magazine, we got so sick of seeing stories which fell back on listing measurements to describe characters, that we actually ended up changing the submission guidelines to note that any stories describing women in terms of bust-waist-hip measurements or cup size would be automatically rejected. I note women because we never as far as I can recall had submissions which described the inch measurement of a guy's pecs or anything else for that matter. And we actually got emails from people who loved our guidelines, and from writers submitting to us and thanking us for taking it to task. It didn't hurt the number of submissions or the standing of the magazine at all, and it gave us a lot less hissyfits.

I don't like to go overboard on description of a character's appearance when I'm writing in any genre, and I don't like too much physical description as a reader either - as you note, I like to mould the character into something I find attractive. So when I read a female character in an erotic story as being 5'10", size six, perky D-cup boobs, blonde hair, etc etc etc, I'm immediately turned off because not only is it incredibly lazy writing, to say nothing of being a cliche of female attractiveness, but it wasn't what I wanted to imagine, and I feel like the author is trying to spoonfeed me. Plus the fact that I'm attracted to short, dark-haired, curvy girls probably doesn't help either.

Blimey. Next time I will try to avoid writing a thesis in your blog comments.

Kathleen Bradean said...

YOu can write all you want. People need to see this from an editor's standpoint.

Here's a point for writers to think about: you want to turn on as many people as possible with your story, but what turns on Reader A turns Reader B off, so don't give us a Barbie doll and expect us to care. (She doesn't have any genitals anyway)

Hmmm... curvacious, short, brown hair... yum.