Your thoughts on a novel I've written! Chapter one

BksOfBrownBksOfBrown Creator
edited January 2018 in Author Workshop
His breath on the window made it all fog up.  Cade drew a little happy face with his finger then wiped it away with his hand, as he let out a sigh while resting his head on the glass.  His tired eyes looked at the grey soaked clouds that blanketed the sky, blotting out the warmth of the sun’s rays.  The day was chilly and it was raining.  In fact, it had been raining ever since he got off the plane. 


Cade, an only child, was nearly seventeen years old.  Standing 5’ 9”, he had a slim, lean but sturdy frame.  Although he was not the most athletic, his muscles were defined enough.  His hair was brown-black, thick and short, but long enough to have a slight wave to it, which he slicked back.  His eyes were a cheerful blue.  They were kind, innocent and keen, having a sharp 20/15 vision.  Cade was able to read the smallest letter line on an eye chart.  His cheeks were flushed with a touch of red on his olive toned skin, while still having that boyish youthful look when he smiled.  He was dressed casually in blue jeans, a grey W.H.U T-shirt, with a dark grey zipped hooded sweater and white sneakers.


The journey had been long.  Two planes, a coach, and now a train ride.  Cade thought he had seen the last of Wales ever since they moved to the United States of America over a year and a half ago.  His Dad, Bryce, a professor of sorts, was a little eccentric.  He was, of all things, a relic hunter.  Everything and anything to do with the Dark Ages whet his appetite, luring him into a quest, to discover and uncover, all he could find.  What drove Cade’s Dad’s interest into the Dark Ages was a mystery to Cade ever since he was a small boy.  However, for as long as he could remember, it was all his Dad ever talked about.


Bryce Evans, a Professor of the Dark Ages and Medieval Times and Practices.  He is a short, 5’3”, burly man, with a head full of black wispy hair, or rather a face full of hair.  The only hair on Professor Evans’ head was around the side, from ear to ear.  Although you would never know that unless he took his hat off, which was not that often.  He insisted on wearing an Indiana Jones kind of hat, a fedora, which made it all the more frustrating for his son, Cade.  With sharp brown eyes, thick bushy eyebrows and broad rounded cheeks, Bryce looked every part of an historian-archeologist-adventurer stereotype.  He was a good, even-tempered man, but able to handle himself if the situation called for it, despite his small stature. 

His quest-driven passion had made him very knowledgeable about many things, but his main love was the life of the Dark Ages!  Of course, without question, he loved his son dearly.  Bryce had raised him from a baby, pretty much on his own, but in growing up his son never warmed to this love of ‘history’ like that of his father. 


Sadly, Cade did not know much about his mother.  She had disappeared many years ago when he was roughly two years old.  Being that young, he had no real memory of her, only the faint whispers and shadows of echoes past, drifting like shifting vapors.  That was over fourteen years ago, and throughout that time, his father never really spoke much about her.  All Cade knew was that a search had gone on for months, but to no avail.  It was a very heartbreaking and sad time.  Shortly after her disappearance, Cade’s father, buried himself in learning, finding a reassurance from history.  Consequently, the Dark Ages became a passion of his, a passion that Cade did not fully understand.


The jolt of the train stopping roused Cade from his thoughts.  Llandyke Wells, last stop.  He looked out of the window, at least it had stopped raining.  There were not many people around, only a half a dozen or so.  Llandyke Wells was a small village, consisting mainly of local village folk and farmers.


Cade stood to collect his things from the overhead luggage rack - a backpack and a suitcase - and made his way towards the exit.  He stepped down from the carriage car onto the platform and looked left and right.  The skies were grey, the air wet and the smell of the rain still hung in the air. 


The railway station was a small grey/black flint stone building; the kind you see on old-fashioned picture postcards.  In fact, the whole place looked like a step back in time.  The town of Llandyke Wells had the railway station along with a small post office, a grocer’s shop, a supply and hardware shop, a newsagents, a police station and a small pub.  They were all made mainly of the same kind of stone, since there used to be a stone quarry a few miles away, long since abandoned, from which most of the town was built. 


Surrounding the town were a few small farms and cottages scattered here and there, thinning out as you traveled further from town.  Open fields, woodlands, forests and rivers were the main backdrop that stretched on for miles. 

The only thing that stood out was Byne Keep, upon Glynn Hill, in the distance.  It stood there broken, wounded over time, ravaged by fire, its authority of long ago, an ancient past  in ruin.  Now, overrun with plant and wildlife, long forgotten by the locals, it was a playhouse for many a kid that ventured out there.



A taxi was waiting for Cade outside the train station.  The driver held a handwritten sign that said, ‘Evans’.  Cade walked up to the driver and said, “That’s me”. 


“A’ight laddie” the driver replied, “Welcome to Llandyke Wells.”, nodding slightly as he touched the brim of his flat cap, “‘Ere lemme take that for you”, he continued, taking the suitcase.


Cade opened the back passenger door, climbed in and sat down while the driver put his suitcase in the boot of the car.  After Cade buckled in the seatbelt, he took out his earbuds from the side pocket of his backpack and put them in his ears, hit play on his Smartphone and listened to some streaming music on Pandora.


The driver returned to his seat, looked over toward Cade and said, “You ready?”, but Cade paid no attention, his mind was on his music, “a’ight laddie” the driver said with a slight smile and chuckled to himself, turning his eyes back to the road.  He started the car and drove off.


Cade had been here before; he grew up here.  Up until the age of seven, the town of Llandyke Wells and its surrounding fields and farms had been his home.  After that, he and his Dad moved south into a bigger, more city-like town, away from the rolling country hills of Wales and into the hustle and bustle of city life.  This life, Cade loved.  Aberandoen was a completely new lifestyle for Cade, one that he quickly adapted to.  The sounds, the noise and the buzz of the city were all different, compared to the life he grew up with.  There was television, music, telephones, mobile phones, computers and people.  People everywhere.  There were probably more people living in one apartment building than in the whole town of Llandyke Wells.


It is hard to imagine living in the twentieth century without all the modern technology, but if you never knew about it, you could not miss it.  Being only seven at the time, Cade was not missing much.  He had learned so many things like fishing and hunting, planting and farming, and horse riding.


Growing up on a small farm was hard work, for everyone.  Even though Cade was young at the time, this did not excuse him from the daily chores of farm life.  Eggs had to be collected from the chicken coop, the pigs had to be fed, the stables had to be cleaned out and the cows and goats had to be milked.  This life was a life that belonged to his Grandparents and still did today.  They had lived there all their lives and raised a daughter there too, his mother. 


Nevertheless, that was the kind of lifestyle Cade and his Dad left behind.  Cade soon forgot about the simple way of living and became very astute in today’s technology that now surrounded him.  It fascinated him.  It was a different world, one he wanted to master.  Unlike his father who had a passion to learn everything about the Dark Ages, Cade had a passion of his own, to learn everything about the digital world, the Digital Age as it were. 


School was a new experience for him too, since he had always been homeschooled Nonetheless, Cade found himself excelling in almost every subject.  It had almost become too easy for him, science and technology were his greatest strengths.  From junior school to senior school, Cade was top in his class, and even in the entire school; this enabled him to jump a few grades, not really making him the most popular kid, but that did not matter, Cade just busied himself with the latest computer gizmo.  He had built dozens of computers, his first one being when he was only nine years old.  That made him money too.  He would build them then sell them for profit, using that money to buy more parts and/or the latest gadget. 


With each passing year, Cade grew in stature.  He was taller than his Dad, his features were softer and he was leaner too.  Cade did not inherit the brawn and roughness of his father’s strength, but he had the strength of a learned mind, one that was disciplined but inquisitive, a trait they both shared.  The ironic thing was it seemed like he and his father were two polar opposites, both passionate to learn all they could, driven and dedicated in the craft of knowledge, however one looking at the past, the other looking at the future. 


There were other things that they had in common too - food and travel.  Cade’s father, Bryce, could rustle up a meal fit for a king with only a few ingredients.  Bryce and his son would often challenge each other in a food cook-off, using the same ingredients to see who could come up with the best dish.  Until recently, Bryce would win but Cade’s determination was beginning to show; he had won the last two competitions and was planning for a third.


Being the kind of man Bryce was meant that he never stayed still for too long.  That is why they had moved to Aberandoen.  Traveling to and from the city was much easier and quicker than it was traveling from Llandyke Wells. 


When Cade was still a young boy, they would only travel during the summer months, just visiting parts of England where it required only a short train ride, where they could be back within the same day.  Other times, they would camp out for days at a time, which Cade loved.  The quick flip-up tent made it so easy to set up and settle down for the night.  His father would then tell stories of long ago, about life during the Dark Ages and how they were living like they did, off the land.  However, this was not strictly true.  They would bring their own canned food, soda and water to drink, with a camp-out kit for cooking including two pots, plates, cups and a set of cutlery for each of them.  Not exactly Dark Ages stuff, but his Dad would pretend that they were, hoping to fire a desire in young Cade’s heart for the past, but never really did.  The Digital Age always won out, and his father would often concede, especially as his son got older.  Camping out lost its flavor.  Cade did not like the rain or the cold when in a tent, and the places they would visit would not have Wi-Fi or a mobile tower nearby to give him a connection to the internet.  Cade also grew tired of the ‘same old stories’ his father would tell, what happened here or what happened there.  Bryce was all too aware of Cade’s growing disinterest and began telling fewer stories, and did not always take him along on his travels.  Cade was growing up, able to look after himself more, he was not so dependent on Dad.  Just because this was right, it did not make it feel good.  Yes, Bryce knew his son loved him, he also knew that Cade needed to make his own stamp on the world that he was discovering.  He was a good lad, a sensible lad.  Smart too.  Bryce was all too proud of the young man Cade had become, he need not worry.



The car hit a pothole, “Everything’s ok laddie, just a small pothole that’s all.  These aren’t the best of roads ‘ere”, the driver said.  “You fell asleep, didn’t wanna wake ya.  We’re not too far now.  You hungry?” he continued.


“Er, no, but thanks.  I’m good,” replied Cade as he pulled the earbuds out of his ears, looking down at his Smartphone.  He could not believe he fell asleep with the music still playing. The battery was almost dead, ‘great!’ thought Cade, ‘just what I need’, and was mad at himself. 


“Here son, I got one of those thingy-ma-jiggy plug wires, charge ‘er up.” the driver said, reading Cade’s face, as he handed over a car phone charger adapter.  A little surprised, but relieved and grateful, Cade thanked the driver and plugged his phone in.  Power!


 “You’re welcome, laddie.  I got a son, uses that phone thingy all the time.  Ain’t got time for it meself, no.  I’m kinda old-school, but my son got me this so we can stay in touch while I’m on the road.  Can’t get all those fancy things to work, don’t understand ‘em meself, but a phone’s a phone and that’s all I use it for.  Not that it works a lot out ‘ere, but I’m not this far out normally.”  Realizing what he just said, he ended with, “er, I’m sure it’s ‘cause I don’t know what I’m doing”. 


They hit another pothole.  “Better focus ‘ere, laddie.  Getting dark and all.” 


“Oh yeah, sure, and thanks again,” Cade said. 


He looked out the window, the sun was setting and the moon was starting to climb in the blanket of the growing night sky.  He sat back and sighed.  No city lights here, just the moon and stars that shone in between the cloud cover, as it revealed the starry hosts above.  It was quiet, which was something Cade did miss.  Nature’s sound compared to none. Other than the sound of the engine, there was nature’s stillness all about them.


Cade reflected on the past few weeks.  Long journeys do that.  It gives you time.  And in that time he thought - a lot.  He had been on the road for two days now.  He could handle it, Cade was nearly seventeen and it was not the first time he had traveled alone, though admittedly it was the first time back to the UK by himself.


Bryce was invited to speak in a seminar at Whelhelm House University just outside of Seattle, Washington.  The students and faculty loved the depth of knowledge that Bryce had so much, they asked if he could stay on for the rest of the semester.  After the visas were granted, Bryce and his son Cade stayed on campus in the guest faculty wing.  Cade was given the chance to enroll himself in some of the IT classes there too, while his student papers were transferred over to the university on a temporary education exchange program.   Here, Cade had the opportunity to further his studies in Science and Technology, which was not possible back in a Welsh/UK classroom.  What started as a short-term stay, ended up being a long-term stay, over a year, in fact. 


About two months into the second semester, a student in Professor Evans’ seminar, (that's how they referred to him at the University), had found some information concerning a small town in the middle of Wales.  A town called, Llandyke Wells.  This, of course, got Professor Evans’ attention.  The student's name was Carl McSmythe. He had brought in a somewhat peculiar stone that day.  It was about the size of a goose egg, almost like a pebble, but not one naturally made by the rolling waves of the sea, this had been made by hand.  The surface was kind of smooth with irregular edges to it.  Its color was ivory white.  This was unlike any other stone, for when you tapped it on a hard surface it would send out something like a low audible resonating hum.


The stone was a gift to Carl when he was just a young boy, left to him by his late Grandfather who received it from his Great-Grandfather generations ago.  He used to tell a story of long ago, about a castle in Wales, England, and how, once upon a time, great wealth and power flowed in their family.  Apparently, this stone was hewn from a rock found at the base of a tree and was meant to hold some mystical power.  Engraved on one side of the stone was the symbol of a tree. 


To a young boy, the magic and mystery of his Grandfather's story ignited a great imagination.  There was much more his Grandfather shared, but as Carl grew older the memory of the story became more disjointed, merging with fairytales and books he had read.  However, he always kept the stone safe for some reason and held on to it throughout all those childhood years, though somewhat forgotten.


The seminar lectures held by the Professor reminded Carl of that stone, so he went on a small treasure hunt of his own to dig it out from his dorm storage, to pay a little more attention to it.  Vaguely remembering the story his Grandfather told him, Carl did a little research for himself and found out that there was a Keep built on a hill in Llandyke Wells in Wales, called Byne Keep.  The Keep was once part of Llandyke Castle built around 900 A.D., which was destroyed by fire only fifty years later.  Only the Keep survived.  A local Baron later occupied it and had the Keep reinforced with stone, and began to rule over the small nearby hamlets at that time.  Upon further reading, he read about the usual folklore stories of the time.  Tales of sorcery and battles between clans, treachery and plagues, mostly general stuff you would find commonplace during the Middle Ages.  However, not much more was known, so Carl turned to his professor to see if he had any insight, since Professor Bryce was from Wales and may know more about the history of that time.


When Carl showed the stone to the Professor, his eyes widened a little, though he tried not to act too surprised by it.  “So, where did you get this, son?”  Bryce asked.  Carl told him the story, which was even more intriguing to the Professor. “I see, I see”, he replied, coolly.  “Well, yes I’ve seen similar stones like this before.  It is a rune stone.  Its size is a little unusual and the tree symbol is different, but I have seen rune stones with other etchings on them, but not quite like this.  Byne Keep does have a lot of history surrounding it.  I could look into it more.” The Professor said, handing the stone back to Carl.


“No, no, you keep it.  I don’t think I can appreciate it the same way you can.” Carl insisted, returning the stone to the Professor.


“Well, if you insist. But isn’t it a family heirloom? How about this, I’ll keep a hold of it and see what I can find.  And when I’m done, I’ll return it to you.” Bryce persisted.

 “To be honest, I don’t have much use for it, really.  Forgot I even had it.” replied Carl, “If it happens to hold an interesting story, maybe put it in a museum or something.  Better than me using it as a paperweight”,  he jested.


The Professor smiled with a nod of his head and slipped the stone into his pocket.


“Oh, one more thing, Professor”, Carl added, “Tap the stone on the table.”


Professor Bryce looked puzzled.  However, he took the stone from his pocket and tapped it on the table.  “Well, would you look at that” he exclaimed a little surprised as the stone emitted a low hum.


“Weird, right!  It’s gotta be what - a kind of meteor stone or something, right?” quizzed Carl.


“Maybe, maybe” the professor replied, with his eyebrows raised.


“Well, see what you can find out, eh Professor?” said Carl


Looking down at the stone he slowly muttered, “Yes… yes”, as his mind wandered for a moment. Professor Evans cleared his throat, then he looked back up at Carl. “Of course, sure.  No problem,” he smiled, “I’ll find out what I can.”



At roughly the same time, across the other side of the campus, Cade was returning some books to the library, when he suddenly heard and felt a strange sound.  It startled him so much that he let out a rather loud, “Whoah!”, right there in the library, as he put his hand on his chest, looking a little shocked.  Those around him looked puzzled for his sudden outburst and started muttering to each other.  Cade soon realized that no one else heard or felt what he just did.  Being slightly embarrassed, he just smiled and shrugged.  He finished returning the books to the librarian, who just looked at him with ‘the look’.


A week later school was out for two weeks, so Bryce took the opportunity to return to Wales to check on some things.  Cade stayed behind. 


When school started back, Professor Evans had not returned.  This was strange, Bryce was usually a punctual man, never really late for anything except when he was headlong into a relic hunting project.  However, he hadn’t had one for over a year now.  The college expressed their concern.  The students were missing class, not a good thing.  Calls were made but there was no answer.  Cade started to worry a little.  This had happened a few times before when his Dad got involved in a project and forgot about the time, one of the few ‘little’ quirks his father had.


About two days into the semester, Cade received a telegram.  Who sends telegrams in this day and age? he thought to himself, then he remembered - his Grandfather would.  The telegram said,


‘Cade come home.  Tickets and travel all arranged for you.

Everything is fine.  Your father needs you.  Do not worry.

Have sorted things out with the University.  See you soon.’

- Grandpa


That was it.  Cade did not know what to think.  The Dean of the University said that the plane was scheduled to leave in a few hours and that he should pack as soon as possible.  Cade packed a few of his things into a suitcase and his backpack, still a little bewildered, as he had no clue what was going on.  


About an hour later, Cade was met again by the Dean, “We’ll give you and your Dad some time, we can cover his base until you both return”, he said, helping Cade to the cab that was waiting on the grounds, ready to take him to the airport. 


“Oh, ok” Cade replied, “thank you, yeah, we’ll be back soon.” 


He loaded his luggage into the cab and left the campus.



Thunder broke Cade’s thoughts. The taxi was nearing the house of his Grandfather, they were now on local roads, mud roads.  Llandyke Wells in the rainy season was not a lot of fun when you’re in the countryside.  The driver honked the car horn a few times, “We’re here, we’re here, laddie. We made it. ‘Ere lemme help you with your luggage.”


The door to the cottage opened, it was Grandpa Yates.  Cade jumped out of the taxi as his Grandpa came over to greet him, “Ahhhh, there he is! There he is!” he chuckled with his arms open wide.  “Good to see you, sonny boy, been a while eh?”


They embraced each other.  “Sure has, Grandpa! Sure has.” replied Cade.


 “You boys get a move on, come inside, don’t want you both catchin’ colds now.” That was Grandma standing in the doorway, “Come, come, say your hellos inside.”


Grandpa Yates nodded to the taxi driver, thanked him and headed inside as the driver returned to his seat and drove back into town.  It started to rain again.


Once inside, Grandma Yates warmly hugged her grandson.  “Look at you”, she said softly with tears welling in her eyes, “My little Cade.”  She cupped his face gently with her hands as she looked up into his eyes, “Though not so little now, eh”, she said with a smile, pinching his cheek.  “Come, come, sit yerself down, sonny.” 


Tired from the long journey, Cade sat in a comfy chair.  The cottage had not changed one bit from what Cade could remember, all those years ago when he was a young child.


“So then, where’s Dad?” asked Cade.


“Now sonny boy”, Grandpa Yates began, then changed direction a little, “ah look at you, a fine young man you turned out to be”, he breathed, “Your father’s fine, just fine son.  Don’t you worry.  Right now, what you need is rest.  Rest up, son.  Ahh, you left a boy and returned a man.  Good to see you, boy. Good, it is.  No more talk tonight, get some sleep, we’ll talk tomorrow.”


As much as Cade wanted to know, somehow he was assured by his Grandfather's words, after all, he was very tired, the journey had been long.  Cade hugged his Grandparents goodnight before he retired and went to his old room.  He sat down on the bed and looked slowly around the room. Not one thing had changed, it was still the same room as when he was seven years old.  He smiled and lay back on the bed as he tapped a toy plane on a string above his head, which made it swing back and forth.  It did not take long before Cade fell right to sleep.


  • Here's what the cover looks like.
  • I enjoyed this. How did you get it on here? I thought only sample e books could be put here and that we still had to pay for that?
    Kind wishes, Linda
  • I got as far as the second paragraph before having to stop and jot down a note. The description of your character devolves into an information dump that reads almost like a doctor's medical record. But I forged on and the next two paragraphs were much the same: you lecturing directly to the reader. Indeed, you provide a long, excruciatingly detailed description of your character's father---who is apparently not even present.

    The result is that after a pretty strong opening sentence you come to a skidding halt in order to provide a great deal of detailed information that would be much better provided within the story itself as it progresses. In other words, show the reader, don't tell them. For instance, instead of stating the bald fact that your hero's eyes are "keen, having a sharp 20/15 vision.  Cade was able to read the smallest letter line on an eye chart" you might instead have him making use of this acute vision in the course of the story and mention the fact---if you feel it necessary---that it is 20/15. For instance, as he is looking out of the train window he might spot some nearly invisible, distant sign but is still able to read it.

    Black Cat Studios
  • Here's what the cover looks like.
    The cover is nicely rendered, but I'm not sure what it conveys about your story or what kind of novel it is. If it had not been for spotting the tiny dragon---half covered by the title---after some close scrutiny I would not have known that it might be a fantasy of some kind. But that kind of subtlety is counter-productive. A cover needs to get across the nature of a book in a single glance, which is all that a prospective reader may give it. You have all of that empty space on the right (making the cover composition look lopsided). If a much larger dragon were to be placed there it would not only make it much more obvious what your book is about it would also provide a visual counterbalance to the face of your hero. Even the lightning is lost by its timidity. You could use that to much greater effect.
    Black Cat Studios
  • Thank you for your input and comments Ron Miller.  Originally I had a brief description of the characters, but I was informed of not painting a good enough picture.  Though now I think I went overboard and yes, probably put too much too soon.  I can sure move it around and space it out, so that it doesn't sound like "lecturing directly to the reader" or a "doctor's medical record".  lol.  Bryce enters the story a little later in the chapter so I can definitely move his description, so that it flows better. (and would be more fitting)

    As far as the cover. I agree.  Those were my concerns too.  It was done for me as a gift, so I will keep it for now.  

    Hopefully you read the chapter through despite the issues you found.  Thankyou again.  It's always nerve-wracking when you put your work out there to be critiqued, but the feedback is welcomed no matter what. :)
  • I'm with Ron on this. There's a story in there, but it needs to be paced. Take that first paragraph, drawing the smile on the glass. I wasn't sure if he faced the window to do this, then rested his face on the glass, or if his face was resting on the glass the whole time.

    The plotting elements are good: The boy is going to university, he befriends a cabdriver, he has a runestone that is a family heirloom, the runestone has a mysterious property. He is called away to return home. All very good.

    But we need to have these paced out, told to us in the right way, in the right tone. We should know that he's on a train before it jolts to a stop. Remember that the reader isn't in your mind, and doesn't know that what you know. You've been talking about traveling, and then he's looking out a window watching it rain. So my thoughts were that he had gotten home and was looking out a house window. Then the train jolted to a stop. Ooops.

    The reader is entering into a kind of a dream, which you're guiding for him or her. If there's an element that doesn't fit -- surprise, we're on a train! then you're going to wake the reader from that dream.

    Another thing: Your tenses are all over the map. Present, past, present, past participle -- It's a bit like a movie that flashes from close-up to long-shot to cutaway to two-shot to closeup. It's too jarring to the reader. You want to tell a story in one primary timestream, and if you need to refer to historical events, that's okay, or future events, that's fine as well. But don't hopscotch all over.

    If you don't mind, let me sketch out the first paragraph a bit differently:

    His breath on the window made it all fog up.  Cade's head was resting on the train window. He drew a little happy face with his finger, then wiped it away with his hand. as He let out a sigh. while resting his head on the glass.  His tired eyes looked at the grey soaked clouds that blanketed the sky, blotting out the warmth of the sun’s rays.  The day was chilly and it was raining.  In fact, it had been raining ever since he got off the plane.  It would feel good, after so many days traveling, to finally reach the university.

    Okay, that fills in the blanks a bit. It lets us know where he is (on a train), where he's going (uni), why he's so bleary (he's been traveling), and about how old he is (uni age). I had originally imagined him as a small child, btw, because of his "rainy day" activity of drawing faces on the window. Of course, if he's on a train, and he's been traveling for days, then that's a better explanation of why he's bored.

    In my opinion, the scene with the cab driver is much better, because we see a natural sense of action, and it's very clear where he is and what he's doing.

    I hope that's helpful.
  • BksOfBrownBksOfBrown Creator
    edited January 2018
    This was the original cover concept
  • That cover is certainly much better than the first one you posted!
    Black Cat Studios
  • In reference to describing a character what would you advise in their description without going overboard.
  • In reference to describing a character what would you advise in their description without going overboard.
    I would describe no more of the character at first than what is absolutely necessary to establish them in the reader's mind. Further details can be slipped in during the course of the story whenever it seems appropriate---for instance, if adds to the understanding or development of the character or adds to the plot. For example, a character's eye color may be a pointless detail, but that they are tattooed or scarred may suggest something about their history or personality---and may even be a plot point. Just ask yourself as you are writing: Does the reader really need to know your character's shoe size? How they part their hair? If their teeth are capped? If they have a mole on their neck? Try to remember that you are writing a novel...not a police report.
    Black Cat Studios
  • ok, thankyou

  • I have had to describe characters more than once in my own books. I faced a special problem in Velda, since the story (which is set in the mid 1950s by the way) is told in the first person (and by a female character just to make things harder for me). How do you get a character to describe themselves? 

    I waited until I was about five pages into the story before I had Velda facing a mirror. She has just arrived at a bar in a backwoods town in Florida after a grueling journey from New York...

    The room in the back is a stuffy little restroom with no ventilation, no evidence of regular cleaning and, awful to see, no seat on the toilet. Fortunately, I’d taken care of that business on the bus, thank goodness. The only light comes from a single bare fly-specked 30-watt bulb dangling from a frayed cord and a cracked pane of frosted glass. I switch the light off and the room actually seems to get brighter. There’s a green-stained sink and a cracked mirror, though I have to stoop a little to use either. It’s nice being tall but sometimes it’s, well, a pain in the neck. I turn on the faucet and let the water run to get cold. While it’s trickling, I look in the glass. Yup, the bartender was being gallant, all right. I look god-awful. I look like I’d just spent a day and a half on a plane and a bus, can you believe it. My black hair is plastered to my head like wet licorice. Fortunately, it’s exactly for times like this that I keep it cut in a simple pageboy. It’s hopelessly out of style, but all I have to do is give it a shake and maybe a couple of brush strokes if I think of it and it’s as good as new.

    I peel my blouse off, being careful to not let it touch anything in the room, and hang it from the hook on the back of the door. My shoulders are so naturally broad and level I have to cut the pads out of all my blouses and jackets, otherwise I’d look like a character from Things to Come. I unhook my brassiere and hang it from the doorknob. The sink’s full of cool water and I splash it on my face. I soak a paper towel and use it to swab out my armpits and the undersides of my breasts. Still damp, I lean on the sink and look closely into the mirror. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, huh? Well, I better not ask questions I might not want to hear the answers to. There’s only one man I’ve ever known who went goofy over my looks and, well, that’s a story I’d just as soon not get into right now. The pale, lean face looking back at me is a lot more like something out of Vogue than Rogue—not exactly man bait. Suzy Parker, maybe, instead of Jane Mansfield, if you get my drift. Okay, so it’s not the face of man bait—but is it the face of a man killer?

    The hell with it.

    At other places throughout the course of the novel, I let suggestions about her appearance slip in whenever it seemed appropriate. Such as, for instance, when she later finds herself walking down the street of a small town in Florida...

    Hardly anyone had paid me much attention on my way to the motel, but the few people out in the heat—mostly some old geezers in front of the feed store—now gawk at me as though I’d just been dropped into the middle of town from a flying saucer. I don’t suppose six-foot brunettes with legs up to here are all that terribly common down here so I let them have their fun, hoping the rise in blood pressure won’t do them any harm in this heat. And screw them if it does. I pass a sweating fat woman lumbering along the sidewalk in an Hawaiian-print muumuu, looking for all the world like some enormous Jell-O fruit mold, who audibly huffs at me and I almost laugh out loud.

    Or, even later, when a tough guy tells her to "keep her big nose out of other people's business" and she replies, "I've got a cute nose."

    Black Cat Studios
  • Ok, I rewrote the first two paragraphs.  Hoping not to take anything away from it.  Thoughts?!

    His breath on the window made it fog up.  Cade’s head was resting on the train window.  He drew a little happy face with his nail bitten finger then wiped it away with his hand, as he let out a sigh.  His normally optimistic sky-blue eyes were tired, contoured now with redness, looked up at the grey soaked clouds that blanketed the overcast sky, blotting out the warmth of the sun’s rays.  The day was chilly and it was raining.  In fact, it had been raining ever since he got off the plane. 

    Cade slumped back in his chair and turned his neck from side to side, as he yawned.  The cabin car he was travelling in had emptied out at the previous station, so he stretched his long slightly toned body out while running his fingers through his hair.  The journey had been long.  Two planes, a coach, and now a train ride.  Being nearly seventeen, Cade had traveled from the U.S to the U.K by himself and now was heading toward Wales. 

  • Thanks, Ron, that was very helpful.  (BTW, I posted the above before i read what you wrote).  I guess I have to unfold the character little by little as the story unfolds and as it allows, without bundling all in one place.  I guess originally wanted to have the reader see the person first and have a concept of them from the beginning and not change in their minds eye as they read along.  
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited February 2018
    Thanks, Ron, that was very helpful.  (BTW, I posted the above before i read what you wrote).  I guess I have to unfold the character little by little as the story unfolds and as it allows, without bundling all in one place.  I guess originally wanted to have the reader see the person first and have a concept of them from the beginning and not change in their minds eye as they read along.  
    I think you did a great job in your last example!  :)

    If I would have any suggestion at all it would be to leave "slightly toned" out (and save that for a better place*) and instead take advantage of having him running his fingers through his hair to mention his hair color. That would seem to be a natural thing to add to the sentence. You could even add further detail, such as "...running his fingers through his wavy red hair" (or whatever it looks like). You might even be able to get across something about his character by saying "...running his fingers through his wavy red hair, already thinning from worry."

    *For instance, you might add a line something like: "His muscles, only slightly toned, ached from disuse" or some such thing.

    I wouldn't worry overmuch about whether the reader's mental image of your character matches your own exactly. It won't no matter what you do, anyway.** I think that if they get the main points in their heads you'll be doing OK.

    Just ask yourself now and then whether or not a detail is really necessary to appreciating your character. Does it get something across about their personality or capabilities? Or is it just something that is part of your subjective vision? Saying that your character has round, chubby, pink face and a snub nose creates a definite impression in a reader's mind...but the fact that they have a mole on the lobe of one ear probably doesn't contribute much.

    And so far as having a reader adjust their mental picture of your character as they read...there is nothing wrong with that. I think that kind of revision takes place so automatically that most readers don't even notice. What you probably should do is try to work from the broadest characteristics to the more detailed. That way, you establish right up front things like height, physical type (fat, thin, muscular, etc.) and those details about the face that help most to convey character and personality. Everything after that is just fine-tuning, but the fundamental physical appearance is established in the reader's mind and that won't change. For instance, they may have been imagining your character with brown eyes until they learn in chapter seven that they are really blue...but the fact that your character is tall and gangling, with large, strong hands and a lean, pale face with hawk-like features won't have changed. The fact that he now has blue eyes and a bald spot are just minor refinements.

    **As an illustrator I have to deal with this all the time. No matter how much detail an author will provide, there will be something about my depiction that they won't think is quite right. The best example of this was a cover I did a couple of years ago. Normally, an author being published by a mainstream publisher has little say about their book cover (and, frankly, for good reason), but in this case he was offered input. The main character was a kind of cat-woman and I scoured the text for her description...but no matter what I did the author was unhappy. He would say, "Her eyes are supposed to be large and wide-spaced" or "Her cheekbones are very prominent." The problem was that all of this was in his own mind. He never mentioned any of these things even once in the book itself!

    Black Cat Studios
  • Again, thank you for taking the time to express your expertise.  I am currently fine tuning the novel (as it's finished now), and I think it'll flow better as I edit the character description down and focus on the story line and allow the characters to express themselves as it goes along.  Not always fun when you thought you were 'finished', but it's important to 'get it right' before the launch. :)

  • Don't worry too much! Every time I hand in a MS to an editor I am pretty confident that it is just about flawless. Then it comes back with 800 suggestions and corrections. After I finished gritting my teeth, I remind myself that that is what editors are for and it's all toward making the book as good as it can be!
    Black Cat Studios
  • Don't worry too much! Every time I hand in a MS to an editor I am pretty confident that it is just about flawless. Then it comes back with 800 suggestions and corrections. After I finished gritting my teeth, I remind myself that that is what editors are for and it's all toward making the book as good as it can be!
    This is my first time writing a novel (and what a task that was), hey at least you have an editor!!  :)  I do have another pair of eyes going thru it, tho they primarily just checking for grammar and typos and not necessarily correct story flow content.
  • That's very much to your credit! Too many authors looking toward self-publishing don't even bother to do that much! 
    Black Cat Studios
  • I like the last example much better. I agree with Ron: that's real progress.
  • Thank you for your vote of support.  Here's a little promo video I did.  Enjoy!  
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