When trying to decide what to post about today, a continuation about description kept popping into my head. I wanted to post one of my favorite descriptions to date—one about possibly the most powerful character in all of my writing: Aral Kett.
But first, there needs to be some background, both about him and more about description. A lot of writers (myself included before I really started finding my unique writing style) tend to lump descriptions of a character into a cramped couple of paragraphs, usually from another character’s point of view upon the new one’s introduction. You get the basics: size, hair, eyes, outstanding characteristics like scars or unique facial features or resemblance, facial expression, clothing, and the observer’s opinion of the new one’s personality. It’s a fast, easy, pat formula: get it all out there right away so you can just move on. Hopefully in the pages that follow, the new character will be developed through description (usually minor observations). I remember in my Creative Writing classes, character description papers tended to be two to three pages, rather than mere paragraphs, but still—same idea. You didn’t get a feel for the character’s character. Some writers are really good at letting their characters’ actions and words inform the writer of personality, morals, beliefs. Others tell you flat out. Some use a mix.
To be honest, I tend to let my characters speak and act for themselves, with a few pat flat-out statements here and there (for dramatic effect).
Now. Kett is one of those characters over which I hold absolutely no control. I can’t push, prod, or plead him into situations. If he doesn’t like the wording I use, he makes me rework and rework it until I get it right. He’s taught me a great deal about my writing style, and how changing it can tell you about the character just as much as their own words and actions.
Kett, as best I can describe him, created himself in my head and began to dictate to me his stories. He’s a demanding taskmaster. He likes things as Spartan as he is—my wording must be stripped down to the very basics, sharp, and clean. He won’t let me use three words when there is a single, more accurate one. He doesn’t like descriptive language like you find in many stories. It’s ironic given my personality that he would chose me to be his biographer. And, funnily enough, he came around when I needed him the most. He tests my writing style, my abilities of keen, effective observation, combat and weapons description, and, very often, my patience. We butt heads a lot. He’s been around since I was in early middle school. I have yet to write one of his tales in a way he’s completely satisfied. He’s scary. Very scary.
But he’s taught me a lot. He showed me that stripping my words down doesn’t make a story simple and pat, but rather effective. He taught me I can change my style to fit each character’s particular “voice,” even if they, like Kett, don’t speak much. He taught me word selection and efficiency often have a larger impact than pages of over-attempt description. And that if he has an opinion about something I encounter in the real world, he will not hesitate to tell me exactly what he thinks. He’s often like that little evil voice everyone has in their head—the one that says precisely what you want to say even when you shouldn’t.
The post to follow this one is the short scene I did of Kett back when I first graduated from Purdue, in June 2006. My then-boyfriend was in summer school, and dared me to write the entire time he was there, in between when I dropped him off and picked him back up. Kett, who never liked him (and told me so frequently), took up the challenge, and this was the result. It was also the piece I used for the 3rd of a 100words challenge with friends on LiveJournal within the same year. (Note: 100words’ premise is this: you come up with a list of 100 words, then go through and write a scene that embodies or uses one of those words. This particular one was titled “Justice,” though I’d originally titled it “Payback” when I wrote it. To date, I’ve written 80 stories out of the 100, over the span of about…oh when did Assassin’s Creed come out?...3 years. We started at about Thanksgiving, 2007.)