Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Character Descriptions – Lessons from Jane Austen

Jane Austen 1873
Authors need to describe credible characters in their novels. 

I recommend the novels of Jane Austen for examples of memorable characters and romance stories with long lasting impact. Jane Austen wrote her stories more than 200 years ago, yet they are still read and loved today. Why are her books so readable? One reason is that Jane described ordinary people in ordinary settings. You will not find details of historical dress or mannerisms. In many ways, she was a very modern writer, her works lack the florid, emotional, and lengthy descriptions employed by the Victorian authors. 

Her stories were romances, filled with her unique light hearted and caustic wit. Her characters resonate today. Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” fits the romantic ideal, even among modern young women. He is tall, handsome and wealthy. Many of Jane’s male romantic characters, however, were not wealthy landowners, tall or handsome. Several were clergymen of modest means. In “Sense and Sensibility,” Edward Ferrars rejected his wealthy inheritance when he refused to marry the woman his mother chose. He followed his principles, even though he could not wed Elinor, the woman he loved, because he was engaged to an inferior woman due to a youthful infatuation. A love triangle! The male leads in Jane’s stories demonstrate heroism by doing what is right, despite the personal disadvantages.
How did Jane Austen create her memorable characters? Her stories rely on dialogue with little action. She gives minimal physical description. Instead, she describes distinct personalities that we recognize from our everyday lives. Her descriptions are pithy; she can define a character in a single, eloquent sentence.
Here is her first description of Mr. Darcy at a ball: “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand a year.” A billionaire romance! But, Jane has set him up for a rapid fall: “…he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity…” Even his ten thousand does not save him.
In contrast, look at Edward Ferrars in “Sense and Sensibility”: “He was not handsome, and his manner required intimacy to make them pleasing.” In fact, he is shy and awkward, and possibly the least likeable love interest in Jane Austen’s stories.
If we follow the example of Jane Austen, we should emphasize the personality of our characters and minimize the physical details. Cattell’s 16 factors may inspire ideas -( 
Of course, in science fiction, we often need detailed descriptions for aliens or other worlds. The great advantage of emulating Jane Austen is that much of the narrative falls into place once the personality of the character crystallizes in your mind. You can imagine how they will react to other characters and the conflicts in the story. I love that moment of insight when I can begin to compose the scenes of the book.  

First posted at SFR Brigade -

Aurora Springer’s latest release is GRAND MASTER’S GAME.

Spin across the galaxy as Violet and her Grand Master hunt their enemies.
Cracks in the portal web threaten galactic civilization, and suspicions fall on the mysterious Grand Masters with their immense psychic powers. Once, there were twelve Grand Masters, humans and aliens, on the Council. Now there are eleven. One was killed when the young pawn, Violet, rescued her Grand Master, Athanor, from the Red Queen’s dungeon. The Red Queen fled the fight and now she lurks out of sight, regenerating her energies.
Athanor devises a risky plan to expose his enemies on the Council and force the Red Queen into the open. His strategy will employ Violet’s empathic skills as his secret weapon. Meanwhile, she wrestles with her erratic talents and doubts about their unequal partnership. In their search for revenge, they contend with the portal crisis, psychic traps and hostile aliens. In the inevitable battle of Grand Masters, Violet and Athanor each will face their worst nightmares. What is the sacrifice for victory? 
Book 2 in the Grand Master's Trilogy


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