So the other day I finished reading a book called The Cuckoo's Calling, a mystery novel by Robert Galbraith (which is actually just a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling. I guess she wanted to see if she could write a book that was judged on its own merits, not by the fact that the author of a best-selling series wrote it).
Basically the mystery is that a famous model is seen falling out of her 3rd story apartment and everyone thinks she committed suicide. A few months later, her brother decides to hire a private investigator, because he suspects that someone must have pushed her, because she couldn't have been suicidal. It's a long journey and takes lots of interviews with the people who knew her best, but it has such a twist ending that I never could've predicted.
It took me about 3 weeks to get through the book, mostly because while I was reading, I was doing a kind of writing exercise I made up, where I copy down in my own notebook the descriptions used for all the characters in the story. I figure that if I want to become a better writer myself, I would learn from the experts. Who better of an expert to learn from than the person who created Harry Potter? ^_^
I'm really glad I started doing this exercise with this book that I might even do it for every book I read from now on! Rowling's descriptions are so... Well, descriptive. :P I mean, you can picture the character clearly in your head. Like, if they were real people, you would instantly recognize them if they were standing in a lineup. If I could write anything like that and make characters come to life, I would be so happy.
Here are a few selections of my favorite characters and the words used to describe them when the reader is introduced to them:
Our main character, Detective Cormoran Strike
The reflection staring back at him was not handsome. Strike had the high, bulging forehead, broad nose and thick brows of a young Beethoven who had taken to boxing, an impression only heightened by the swelling of a blackening eye... His height, his general hairiness, coupled with a gently expanding belly, suggested a grizzly bear... His thick curly hair, springy as carpet, had ensured that his many youthful nicknames had included "Pube-head".
This guy Strike was a great lead character. He's not any Harry Potter, but he's a good guy. Anyway, you could picture him clearly, couldn't you? A huge, tough, misunderstood Beethoven-like character who solves mysteries.
Some other characters I just loved the descriptions of:
Detective Roy Carver
A paunchy man with a face the color of corned beef, whose shirts were usually ringed with sweat around the armpits, his short supply of patience had been exhausted hours ago.
This guy sounds just like Uncle Vernon Dursley! Lol
Tansy and Ursula May
The sisters subjected Strike to the kind of brazenly critical stares that only people of a certain class feel entitled to give. They were both as pristine and polished as life-size dolls recently removed from their cellophane boxes; rich-girl thin, almost hipless in their tight jeans, with tanned faces that had a waxy sheen especially noticeable on their foreheads, their long, gleaming dark manes with center partings, the ends trimmed with spirit-level exactitude.
I loved the image of these rich girls who are just like fake, plastic, life-size dolls.
A tall, well-made, expensively suited man with foxy coloring stopped beside Strike's table... In his late fifties, with a full head of hair, a firm jaw and pronounced cheekbones, he looked like an almost famous actor hired to play a rich businessman in a miniseries.
Bestigui was built like a bull, with short legs, a broad barrel chest and a thick neck. His hair was gray and brush-cut; his face a crumpled mass of folds, bags and moles, out of which his fleshy nose protruded like a tumor.
A large black man wearing some kind of hooded top with a fist picked out in studs on the chest sat in a black leather chair, facing an unseen interviewer. His hair was closely shaven and he wore sunglasses... His voice was soft, deep and hoarse, with the very faintest trace of a lisp.
Then there are some shorter descriptions for characters who don't exactly have names. They're more like one-off characters you never see or hear from again. Still, they have memorable looks:
Detective Eric Wardle ~ Boyishly good-looking, with thick, wavy brown hair.
Waitress ~ The squat middle-aged waitress had short straightened hair and dangling orange plastic earrings.
Hostel receptionist ~ A gum-chewing woman behind the desk was reading a newspaper. She seemed suspicious and ill-disposed.
Receptionist Trudie ~ A jingling and clacking noise preceded the entrance of a girl with tomato-red hair, dressed in head-to-toe black and wearing many silver bangles.
Bouncer ~ The door was guarded by a bald bouncer who grinned at them, revealing two gold teeth.
Rochelle's Aunt Winifred ~ An obese black woman wearing thick-lenses glasses and a knitted hat, who projected an aura of eccentricity that bordered on instability.
I've learned so much from this exercise, and hope to apply it to my own writing someday. Maybe one of these days I'll take a look back at my own writing, just to see how my character descriptions compare to these people