Fiction File: Need Character? Put a Spin on Description, Like This…

I decided to pick up a thread I started here months ago. Yeah, to say I lost track would be an understatement.

Back then, I said there are different ways to make characters seem real—even though they’re really not. I mentioned dialogue already, and I may do another post or two on that, just for fun.

Today, I’d like to go into another way to make characters pop off the page or screen…

And that’s by doing something I’ve heard referred to as “character tinting your descriptions.”

It’s basically having the characters describe their surroundings, situation, and almost anything, in their own words, so that your readers get the information without even knowing they how they got it.

Because hey, after all, it was just the character describing things, and readers picked up on it. Readers get a sense of your character’s attitudes, worldview, and more, right away…

And stay “in the story” where you want them.

Example time!

The Zorgs were haughty and had a privileged economic status, shown by their nice clothes and other expensive belongings. They used their own private transportation, nearly all the time, and didn’t make any secret of where they were on the social ladder.

This is me, as the writer, telling readers about the Zorg race—how they act, dress, and what-have-ya. Although we might be able to make this seem like a first-person account of the Zorg race, there are better ways to do it, to get readers lost in the description.

Other details have to come later, and likely would, such as the setting, and so on. If we were to jazz things up a little bit, what could we say?

The Zorgs were haughty. Their position in the quadrant almost assured it—nice clothes, lots of expensive things, their own private trans. When you passed a Zorg on the transport—if they’d dare use a public one–or even heard them anywhere, you knew it.

This is getting better. It seems like an account from someone who doesn’t like the Zorgs very much. And it’s in second person. It could be better. The space you spend on the description also depends on how important Zorgs are (in this case).

But what if our character is a Zorg? How do we show all the info from the other paragraphs? Let’s have a Zorg describe some things, while getting off a bus, let’s say.

I was busy polishing my third ring—an engagement gift from my fiance, who knew good taste when he saw it, I must say. Some lower form—a human female—stepped on my boot, as I disembarked from the public transport. I’ll have to get a new pair as soon as possible. And make sure my own transport’s repairs are finished before I even think of traveling again. She said she was sorry, but saying sorry never fixed anything. Not that humans and other lowers ever could. Zorgs should never endure this treatment under any circumstance. I told her so, and she sobbed and walked away. Humans.

An extreme example, I know. Did you catch how words like “treatment” were used to describe something a lot of people may not think was a big deal? And how did this Zorg treat the woman in the scene? Not nicely, really. But the point of the thing was that the Zorg didn’t care.

Here’s what makes describing things this way so powerful. Who the character is also has a huge bearing on how they describe something (amazing how almost everything goes back to characterization).

Here’s what might happen with the Zorg example if we were to describe Zorgs from the perspective of those “other races,” in this case, a human named Grant:

Grant looked at the platform. One of those Zorgs stepped off the bus. Not a tentacle out of place. Walked like they owned the world. Grant felt his fists clench. Maybe they did. He looked again. Three rings, two coats—heck, shoes that could pay two months’ rent. If they had hearts, maybe they’d give to us lowers. Their name for the subjects of Their Majesty. Grant sighed, and kicked a rock in the direction of one of Them.

We see how Grant thinks and feels, right away. This is the same subject, in this case, the Zorg race, from three different perspectives.

A word of warning with this: the descriptions have to be relevant to the situation and other surroundings. If someone’s being chased, high-speed, in a car during rush-hour, an old guy with his dog may not (and probably should not) catch the character’s attention—unless the car guy almost hits the dog, or something. Describing how big the dog is, or how fluffy, or what-have-ya, during a chase scene would also slow down the pace, and the dramatic impact—something you wouldn’t want, at this point.

But if we put that car-chase character out of the car and on the sidewalk for a Sunday stroll, describing the dog is fine–as long as it’s something that character would notice and care about.

So the next time you need to paint a scene or the background of your world, have your characters do it.

It’s a lot more fun that way, and works better, too.

How do you write descriptions, when you need to? Drop me a note and let me know. What types of descriptions move you on an emotional level?

Remember that tomorrow is Fabulous Fiction Friday. Make sure to stop by.

Until next time,



About Ty Mall

Thanks for stopping by. I've almost always been interested in writing, among other things. Along with discovering pop culture, I've uncovered a lot about the craft over the past 10 years. And whether you're a fiction writer or email copywriter, I'm here to pass on what I've found out. And have a ton of fun in the process.
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