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Breathing Life Into Characters February 26, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

Tim Dorsey knows how to breathe life into his characters.

In a single paragraph, he describes 7 characters using brief sketches, allowing readers to flesh in the rest:

* Major Fletcher ~ steady leader with blond hair, a close shave, and a square dependable jaw

* Lee Barnes ~ a crusty and foul-mouthed veteran with hangover stubble and a footlocker of vintage Playboys

* Milton “Bananas” Foster ~ a highly excitable yet gifted mechanical wizard

* Marilyn Sebastian ~ a plucky aerial reconnaissance officer, as tough as any man, but every bit a woman

* Pepe Miguelito ~ a forlorn youth with pencil mustaches and unending girl troubles

* “Tiny” Baxter ~ a massive country boy from Oklahoma with simple but strong values

* William Honeycutt ~ a former bantamweight champion

Dorsey provides enough detail to bring his characters to life . . . without beating them to death.

Sometimes a skeletal outline or quick sketch connects us to a character faster than too many extraneous details.

Aah . . . that’s better!

Related post:  Explanations (Candid Impressions) * Two Writers Debate: Pantsing vs. Plotting (Eric John Baker) * The End is Never the End (Grannymar)


1. Pix Under the Oaks - February 26, 2014

Must google. I need a book for the next 10 days of fridgid weather or find a warm beach place to read! SO over this winter. Yes, I am whining.

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

That’s OK, Pix. I would be whining too. Fifty winters in the Northeast was plenty for me. 😀

Dorsey has quite a fan base, especially in Florida, BUT his books are NOT for everyone. The main character is a psychopath/ sociopath/ mental deviant with a twisted moral compass, a humorous bent, and a few redeeming values.

I read two books without ill effect, but decided I didn’t want to read them all.

2. Don - February 26, 2014

Thank you for the link Nancy – you’re very kind.

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

You are most welcome, Don.

3. Don - February 26, 2014

Loved the post.

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

Thanks, Don. You might be interested in the other post linked at the bottom ~ about writing with, or without, an outline.

4. William D'Andrea - February 26, 2014

Thank you for the writing challenge. I might take me a few days to see if I can come up with something. It might actually help me overcome my unending writer’s block.

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

That’s an idea, William. See if you can come up with a few well-rounded characters with sharp jagged edges. :mrgreen:

William D'Andrea - February 27, 2014

While it is going to take me a good amount of time to come up with any original character, here is one of the best examples I know of, which presents a setting, characters, atmosphere, and feelings in just a very few words:

“It’s a quarter to three.
There’s no one in the place except you and me.
So set ’em up Joe.
I’ve got a little story I want you to know.
We’re drinkin’ my friend, right to the end
Of a brief episode;
So make it one for my Baby
And one more for the road.”

Those lyrics, along with the rest of the song, written in the 1940s by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, really do set the scene; saying a tremendous amount about the situation, using very few words; and when Sinatra sang them, they fit his image perfectly.

As a writer, I’d like to be able to do as well.

nrhatch - February 27, 2014

Music lyrics often rely on an economy of words to set the stage.

5. Carol Balawyder - February 26, 2014

Thanks for this post and the descriptions of the characters. There’s always something new to learn 🙂

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

Yes! There are as many ways to write as there are writers.

6. ericjbaker - February 26, 2014

I am so about everything in this post! One detail can often serve in the place of a thousand. I rarely ever describe the appearance of a character or a setting, unless it’s first person PoV and it advances the story note that character’s reaction.

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

Yes! I’ve never been one to wax poetic about the dust motes drifting in front of the window panes.

7. Grannymar - February 26, 2014

Those descriptions remind of a piece I played with a couple of years ago. I wonder if I still have it? Must see if I can dig it out…

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

If you find it, come on back and share.

Grannymar - February 27, 2014

I found it! Have to admit it is way longer than yours and it will go live on my blog tomorrow, Friday.

nrhatch - February 27, 2014

Awesome! I look forward to reading it.

8. jannatwrites - February 26, 2014

I have to agree with looking for the quick sketch. When I get to a long paragraph of exposition, I generally skim, or even skip, it.

nrhatch - February 26, 2014

Me too. Dialogue and action are far more appealing to me than the labels on shoes, purses, and window treatments.

That said, I do enjoy knowing what people are EATING. 😀

9. Three Well Beings - March 1, 2014

The author does a great job of summarizing his characters, but I got a bigger kick out of your description of the books. “The main character is a psychopath/ sociopath/ mental deviant with a twisted moral compass, a humorous bent, and a few redeeming values.” Definitely unique, I’d say! 🙂

nrhatch - March 1, 2014

Thanks . . . I didn’t focus on the parallels between that description and the bent of this post when I wrote it. I’m glad you pointed it out. Serge Storm is UNIQUE ~ he has a strange way of looking at the world.

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