Only occasionally do I post a piece on writing. And writers. When I do, it is something I feel can be useful to my readers who are writers. I try to avoid repeating insights you can find on other blogs. With this in mind, today I read a book. Being a slow reader, I don’t usually finish a 419 paged book in a few hours. But I finished What We See When We Read by Peter Mdndelsund, art director and book designer at Alfred A. Knopf.
It answers so many questions I have had about description over the years. What to leave out and what to put in. Insights into how a writer should describe a character. How much of that description a reader will remember.
He interviewed readers of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, askign them to describe Anna. You will find the responses very interesting. Throughout the book, he refers to a number of great writers besides Tolstoy and how they have used description. Writers such as Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Kafka, Herman Melville and Gustave Flaubert. He gives insights how an actor might go about preparing for a role such as Hamlet and how the audience sees the actor in that role.
Over the years, I have concluded that the best way to describe a character is emotionally through the use of physical description such as: angry eyes, closed-mouthed, tight jaw, weighted down body, open faced, friendly smile. It use this more than I worry about the color of a character’s eyes. After all, there are only a few colors for eyes: blue, gray, brown, black, hazel, green.
The thing is that it took me a long time to arrive at this destination with my writing. Mendelsund’s book is the icing on the cake. So do yourself a favor and get the paperback copy of this book, not the eBook.
Note: I am in no way associated with this writer or his publisher. I have not received a book to review.