Judging by the cover

How much work do you put into defining, and describing, a character’s appearance?

When I was a teenager, I described my characters in detail. I had clear images in my mind of how they looked and I wanted readers to get that same image. I also loved (and still love) crazy anime hair colours. I’ll admit I was guilty of this:


But the books I read increasingly gave me the impression that describing characters in such detail was juvenile. I also came to shy away from unnatural hair colours, at least in traditional fantasy, for the same reason. I also prefer these days to make my characters more average-looking. After all, the world is not made up of Doctor Dooms and Captain Americas; it is made up of Johns and Jenns, Abduls and Taniquas. And I prefer to write stories about those regular people.

Yet, as a reader, I enjoy reading full descriptions of characters, getting an image in my head as clear as the author’s, and as accurate. And increasingly, my rebuttal to those reasons not to describe them in detail—show, don’t tell; don’t info dump; it’s not that important—is why not? It’s all fiction, and in my case, it’s all fantasy and science fiction. What problem is it to go ahead and describe characters in detail? One can go on too long, of course, but that is true of anything.

Aside from that, a character’s physical appearance says a lot about them. It is an extension of their personalities. How a character dresses or looks or styles their hair tells you a bit about them.

For example, take Damian, the star of my Sisters of Chaos trilogy. Her most distinguishing feature is her vivid yellow eyes; of course, they show that she’s different, and she’s spent the vast majority of her life hiding them behind a veil, until she makes a conscious choice not to hide them anymore. She styles her hair nicely, because she is effeminate and because she’s trying to show that there’s more to her than her strange eyes and what they represent. Yet, she makes fashionable gowns for herself that accentuate her body (slender, not shapely), not try to emphasize features she doesn’t have. She doesn’t wear corsets or padding or anything; she’s trying to show her best self, yet she is honest to a fault and does not want to be accepted for something she’s not.

Then there’s Garrick. He’s Marvel Studios ripped and very attractive, with an infectious/roguish smile. He is constantly aware of how he is perceived by others, and adjusts his posture, speech, and expressions to maximum effect for whatever company he’s in. Partly he does so to get whatever he’s looking for out of the encounter, and partly it’s to get the respect he has desperately desired throughout his life, and it also serves to cover up his own insecurities.

Maybe you don’t get all of that with a strict description of how a character looks, but the fact is, there’s a reason behind every character’s appearance. A character might be wearing an expensive but ill-tailored suit because they’re new money and don’t know how to live the high life, but want to. Maybe a female character refuses to wear a bikini because she’s self-conscious. A male character might have a patchy, or overly thick, beard because he’s trying to compensate for a babyish face he gets teased about otherwise.

All these details are more than just giving a reader a clear picture of the character the author is depicting; they’re clues into the character. And as readers, we also form opinions of the characters based on how they look, because that tends to show pieces of the character. Whether those opinions are affirmed by the character or challenge our biases, it adds to our understanding of the character.

And really, what’s wrong with describing a character’s appearance in detail?

Looking on the bright side

I tend to dwell on negative feedback. I know it is unhealthy, and I certainly don’t like it, but for some reason, I can’t set it aside easily. Maybe it is just me, or maybe it is part of the human condition. I am sure a lot can be said on this topic.

But that isn’t the point of this post. Sometimes, it’s nice just to focus on the positive.

I do get positive feedback on my writing, a bit more than negative, and occasionally, I get a comment that completely validates my efforts. I have been working on a short story for an anthology to be released at Gen Con this year – gamer folks, I hope to see you there! – and I sent it out to a few beta readers a week and a half ago.

One of the readers gave me excellent feedback, complimentary as well as critical. Among the comments was a basic description of each character in the story by the reader, as ascertained from the characters’ dialogue and actions in the text (exclusively, since I particularly tried to avoid “telling” in this piece). And it was bang on. Every description perfectly described the characters as I had developed them for this short, which tells me that I portrayed them exactly as I should have.

It might be a small thing and not a glowing review of the story, but for a writer, sometimes knowing that I put it on paper the way I envisioned it in my head means a lot more.

Halcyon fan art

Thank you to everyone who stopped by my tables at Gen Con and Fan Expo! Halcyon had a great reception and I’m looking forward to my next convention in November. And for those who can’t wait that long, Halcyon is now on sale online!

I’ve recently received some fantastic fan art of characters from Halcyon. This drawing of Zander comes from Janna Fong:

The following drawing of Elya comes courtesy of Sarah Petrulis:

And at Fan Expo I received a sketch of Zander from Nicole Chartrand, creator of the webcomic Fey Winds:

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to draw these characters!

Sketches – Halcyon

I actually picked up my sketchbook and pencil for the first time in quite a while recently and drew up some headshots of the characters from Halcyon:

The characters in the first image are: Zander, Elya, Galina, Amélie, Chen and Dwayne. In the second image: Shad, Deadeye, Gerod, Solace, Sinclair and Squirrel.

It feels good to draw again.

Sketches – September 18

When I said that this project to draw quarter-page fanart sheets was ambitious, I was referring to the fact that I’d like to get as many as possible done before next year’s convention season.  To that end, this week yielded two more fanart sheet sketches, from the video game Breath of Fire 2 and the anime Magic Knight Rayearth.

Sketches – September 13

After a pretty quiet summer, art-wise, drawing has been taking over my free time of late.  First, sketches of the third sheet in my quarter-page fanart series, this time from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn:

Also, I picked up some brush pens this weekend and did a quick drawing yesterday to test them out:

They’ll take practice, but I think I could make something of these.

Sketching in September

Thanks so much to all of you who visited my table at Fan Expo recently!  I have to admit, of the conventions I’ve been to, that one has the best artist’s alley, and I love being a part of it.

Doing Fan Expo gave me the inspiration to tackle an ambitious idea to draw quarter-page portraits of favourite characters from favourite video games/series, and it’s proven to be a fun endeavor this week.  Here are the sketches of my first two fanart sheets, from Final Fantasy VII and Tales of Symphonia:

Stay tuned for more!

A novel for July?

Carter Foxx, Meridia Aeslynn, and Beauregard "Bo" Masterson - Earth's greatest hope for freedom.

Inspiration struck with a vengeance last week, breathing life into characters I haven’t thought seriously about in some years and flinging them into a story of their own.  I’m still not sure where it came from, nor do I recall how the entire first half of the story first came to mind so abruptly, but I won’t complain.  It sounds interesting.

As usual, I have other novels I would rather finish before beginning something new, but this isn’t the first time a new story has completely consumed my mind, and I have experience to say that even if I say right now that I’m going to write this for NaNoWriMo in November, the drive will be quite gone by then.  So, instead of letting this idea fade to the recesses of my mind where other muses have been waiting long years for their time in the spotlight, I’m strongly considering turning this into my own NaNoWriMo for July.  I’m not sure the story is quite developed enough to write something that won’t need significant reworking down the line, but who knows?  I had less of Aurius planned out when NaNoWriMo 2007 began, and that’s still the best thing I’ve ever written.

I may not make 50,000 words.  Our summer is getting busy, and unlike November, I have softball every week occupying what could otherwise be useful writing time.  But, at least I will have something, and this story that has burrowed intensely into my consciousness now will not merely fade away to the back burner like others have.  I’ll just have to make some stuff up along the way.

Wish me luck.

An abrupt attack of inspiration

I had every intention yesterday to veg on the couch and play Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones.  Instead, this happened.


Eirika, at front and center, was sketched late Saturday night, and Innes, at top right, was just sketched now, but all the other work was done yesterday afternoon.  I guess all the art I didn’t do last week was saving itself up for this.  From front to back, left to right, the characters are Eirika, Ephraim, Seth, Tana, and Innes, with Joshua to be drawn at back center.