places are difficult, but people are impossible! As a reader, those stock hair-and-eye-color parts are always the ones I skip. I want to know who these people are and what they're going to do, not the hue of their t-shirts or the shape of their chins or any of the other thousand details that end up in a novel.
But I'm listening to John Irving's Until I Find You, and if you want to learn ANYTHING about writing, read John Irving.
I kept thinking about this book while I was flipping through my stack of books on character writing--bad ones with long lists of adjectives, a treasure trove of cliches. By page fifteen, I got so irritated by the meaninglessness of it all that I started throwing the books around the room. "That's not how we get to know people!" I exclaimed. "That's not what people ARE!"
Now getting back to John Irving, I kept thinking about his character Emma, who struggles with her weight, a detail that impacts all of her relationships and choices from the beginning of the book. And then there's Daughter Alice, whose modesty is a well-established fact long before we find out why it's important.
But that's it, exactly! Don't those things do a lot more for characterization than the shape of a nose? Unless you're writing Cyrano, unless it MATTERS, I can't make myself care as a reader, let alone as a writer.
So I'm going through my own writing, trying to find the details that matter and describe my characters in a way that doesn't make me cringe.
What do you think? What helps you write description? What's the hardest part of writing for you?