Monday, October 6, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 27: Character Appearances



Today's question: Do appearances play a big role in your stories? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about designing your characters?

Gosh. I don't even know how to answer that. It varies depending on the character, right? Some people are very aware of and affected by their appearances. Some aren't. Same with characters.

I wouldn't say appearances usually play "a big role" in my stories. I usually discuss it peripherally if it's not important (just because people generally like to picture who they're reading about), and usually there will be some internal monologue or dialogue discussing characters' appearances if they are relevant to the story.

I find that in my short stories, it's very common to have a main character whose appearance is literally not touched on at all. "Baby Talk," "Clouds," "Derika & Emily," "The Escape," "Final Verses," "Goodbye," "Her Mother's Child," "In Love With Love," "Modern Goddess," "The Mother," "No Longer Junior," "Problem Recipe," "Protector Cat," "That Story About Fortune Cookie Girl," "Uncle Avery's Garden" have no or almost no physical description of characters whatsoever. That's more than half of my short stories. And in "Bloom," "Brady," "The Curse," "Dear God," "Glass Dawn," and "Wind," you might get a description here and there but you don't even know the main character's hair color. "Bloom" mentions Kamber having charms in her hair. "Brady" mentions Megan's shaved head and jewelry style. "The Curse" mentions that Zarry had hair that was "not straight." Jamie in "Dear God" is described as "the short, skinny kid." Dawn in "Glass Dawn" is mentioned to have green eyes. Lihill in "On the Inside" has some description of her curly hair and how she hates when her mom cuts it off. And Thomas from "Wind" is not described at all except for his habit of biting his lip when he grins; there's quite a lot of description of Windy, though. What Windy looks like IS important.

In "Just Like Stephen," George's appearance is only significant in that he looks like his brother, so a couple things got mentioned offhand, but it's not so much about his looks as that I wanted to point out how similar they are right down to how they look. It worked out well.

"Mother's Day" discussed appearance a bit, but mainly because the main character Hendrix is a clone and he lives at a complex with like 500 of himself. He grew up identifying his best friends by their nametags instead of their faces. His thoughts on outside people's appearance: "Everyone's got those bizarre recessive genes that make them look like ghosts: sky-colored eyes, corn-colored hair, and paper-colored skin. Even if our 'family' wasn't famous, I'd still stick out like a sore thumb. I look like some kind of speckled, brown-eyed carrot among these translucent people. But even though they all have that same color scheme, they manage to look so different from one another. It always amazed me how one species could have so many different ways of being human."

I literally had no idea what the protagonist of Stupid Questions looked like until I was almost done writing it, and then I went back and filled in a few little details of Nick's appearance. His opposite, Summer, was described largely while he was admiring her, so you know her hairstyle and her hair color and her eye color and how she dresses, but she's a very ordinary-looking person and her appearance isn't integral to the plot at all.

Delia in both the novel Bad Fairy and its short story version has some significance to her appearance. Mainly that she doesn't look like a typical fairy because she isn't. She's got black hair and purple eyes, and looks kind of sinister with her pale complexion. I did that on purpose because she's practically archetypal and I figured she should look the part if I was going to do a fairy tale, you know? The typical fairies, including her mom, are almost always curly-haired blondes. There's no standard for eye colors, though. Delia looks very human even though she's half fairy, so I guess that was pretty important in her life.

Going more into novels, I don't do a lot with appearance when it comes to Bay from Joint Custody, but you do get to know what he looks like, and you do get to see him through other people's eyes (his friend Marz is a photographer, and he is one of her favorite people to photograph!). Erm, he's Irish with curly brown hair. Not much to go into really.

Probably the works I have in which appearance is most significant are The House That Ivy Built and Finding Mulligan. In Mulligan, protagonist Cassie obsesses over her appearance a LOT, mainly because her alternate self, Dia, is basically what she idolizes in terms of what constitutes beautiful, and she'd really like to look like her. During the course of the story, Cassie gets a perm and colors her hair in order to turn her straight brown hair into Dia's curly blonde locks, and she even gets blue contact lenses to be like Dia. And runs around in white dresses with bare feet and sticks star decals on her face. It's kind of strange. o_O But hey, "being" Dia is what helps her learn to find her confidence and actually take possession of some of her major talents. Switching appearances had a huge effect on her mental state.

THTIB just kind of has more appearance-related issues than you can shake a stick at, and a few of them showed up in Negative One if you look closely. In the books, sometimes Ivy is incredibly insecure about how she looks. She's usually pretty confident, but she grew up most of her life not really knowing a lot about restraint or shame or self-consciousness, and when she first started getting into situations where those things surfaced for her, it was almost overwhelming. In general, she sometimes finds herself wanting to blend in, and even though she doesn't always want that, it upsets her that she quite frankly cannot be inconspicuous.

Ivy isn't the only one in the series with appearance issues, but she is the protagonist, so she's the only person whose inner monologue delivers such things in the story. I have quite a few literally non-human characters in that book, and if they are ever in a situation where they have to be in public they have a disguise (Adele does this a lot with her robe). But my non-human characters don't really seem to be particularly self-conscious about not being human or whatever. I saw a little of this from Tab in book 2 when she was pissed off that Bailey got to go to school and she didn't. :P (Bailey and Tab being mad at each other is never good. They are both vicious in very different ways.)

Er, beyond that, I think I got nothin'.

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