Sunday, 14 August 2016

I have no face!

"This approach––minimalism––seems to be the preferred style these days."

This prefaced a blog article on Describing Your Hero (and other Characters).

To my bleating scorn a trend is coming around again where writers refrain from describing their Hero so the reader can fill in the blanks themselves.

It’s hardly a new philosophy.  I recall years ago reading archived “Letters to the Editor” (ie: pre-internet ranting venue) from a century ago.  The letter-writer was quite passionate about his intense dislike for the new trend in illustrating books.  These pieces of art through a novel totally ruined his experience.  It forced him to see characters that contradicted the pictures formed in his own imagination.  He felt this would make children lazy and dull as their little imaginations became flabby.

I don’t think a character needs to be described down to the colour of his shoelaces (unless shoelaces are important).  However, I do need to know with whom I’m dealing.  Some well-wrought broad strokes for an impression is fine.

But to NOT describe the hero?  I labour mightily for choice words to paint the setting and capture the moment.  A writer’s job is to make the environment come alive for the reader…but I’m supposed to leave the hero a blank zero?  What drivel.  My first reaction is to compare it to watching a movie where the lead actors wear loose onesie pyjamas and a sack over their head.  Just so their actual faces don’t spoil the viewer’s experience.

Really, not describing the hero is merely fobbing the heavy lifting off to the reader.  The reader might be trying to fill in his/her own dream character, but the author will keep supplying business to derail that.  Gradually, the character as seen by the author will be inferred by actions and reactions.  Why make the reader do this connect-the-dots mystery drawing?  

As I said, though, it’s not a new idea but I fear this modern age of internet communication, where dufus fads spread like mnemonic wildfire.  I can cynically imagine hordes of lazy, semi-amateur, partially-skilled writers snapping up this idea just to avoid the effort (because writing is hard).  Spin a cloak of pseudo-intellectual literary doublespeak around the concept and they’re smiling.

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