I've realized recently that many of my favorite authors never really stop to describe the characters, or only spend a few words on them, and yet I think I know exactly what they look like, while other authors make many attempts, but I feel as though I spend the whole book in a fog. And I want to know why this is. Did YOU know that we don't really know what Lizzie Bennet looked like, besides the fact that she had "fine eyes"?
As a reader, I find that long descriptions (His nose was aquiline, but a stopped just short of the prefect angle. The forehead was broad, and gently furrowed… ad infinitum) go in one ear and out the other. But it’s not the length alone that makes them unmemorable. Short, bland “Wanted poster” descriptions that list eye color, hair color and body type I tend to ignore altogether.
However, C. S. Lewis, in Till We Have Faces, gives no description of the MC’s father (from what I could find), besides the fact that he has a "great bull-laugh", and (as far as I know) I imagined the big, beefy Viking of a man from that sentence alone. He didn't need to spend the time to describe the character in more detail. That short, elegant phrase gave me a perfect picture of the man, and an idea of what his personality was like. And now I'm wondering if further description would have either upset the picture in my head, or been ignored entirely.
So what DOES make the difference? Perhaps, if you can use someone's own imagination to trigger a picture, instead of trying to paint one yourself, it will make an impression more vivid than the longest description could. Another thing I’m finding is that descriptions with an action “stick” in my head. “He was constantly pulling his long nose,” vs. “He had a long nose.” “She looked over her spectacles,” vs. “She wore glasses.”
I've also noticed that the stories I can "see" better don't just describe once, and then stop. They fill in more details as the story goes on, or remind you of what you already know.


At any rate, those are my thoughts so far, but I was hoping for input from y'all. What do you think? What are some examples of books with vivid characters, and why? Or does your brain work differently than mine does, and the long Victorian descriptions do help you?

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The descriptions can be worded variously, but we need to have a character in mind and remain consistent with that character from beginning to end.

Don't make her flighty in parts of the story and in other parts methodical, cold and calculating - at least not without reason.

In a story about Noah, we should be consistent in how we represent the three sons - Japheth, Shem, and Ham. We should find out who was eldest, who was creative, who was mathematical, who was a word-smith, who was a lover of open spaces, who was inclined to be off to himself, who was gregarious, who was adventurous, who was a homebody.

It is good to have a wanted poster in you mind, or even on file, as you write for each character.

Do the same with each location. Create maps and have someone help with landscape art. Is the world barren and hostile or is it lush and verdant and friendly? Is the city confused with winding narrow streets and tight corner markets? Or is it wide and open with plazas and broad steps? Are the building angular and symmetrical or are they rounded and abstract?

Then which sorts of structures do your characters favor? And what sorts of setting do they favor? Will your Shem be one who enjoys sunsets, or will your Ham be one who sleeps in and has never seen a sunrise?

Have a notebook or journal with several pages, or several index cards on each one. This is so easy to do now with computers.

Good ideas! 

So now I'm curious, are you writing about Ham, Shem and Japeth, or was there another reason you picked them as examples? :-)

I have written over 110,000 words of a coffee table graphic novel on The World of the Flood. And I have been discussing the possibility of CREATIONIST BELIEVERS spearheading an effort to bring about the production of a biblically accurate ACTION/Drama film about the Flood that would have initial appeal to a juvenile and up audience.

That would be an amazing production! It would be quite expensive, I imagine.

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