Sunday, October 27, 2013

Do You See What I See?

No?  Good.  Because you don't have to.

This entry comes from a recent Twitter conversation I had with Teri Harman and F.J.R. Titchenell.  Take a look; it's brief because, hey, it's on Twitter.  ^_^  But it brought up something I didn't realize I'd done until I thought about it.

In The Accidental Warlock, I don't describe the two heroines' body types.  I say that Shiloh has blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin; likewise, I say that Alexi has copper-brown skin, dark eyes, and black hair with a purple sheen to it, as well as a red mark on her forehead.  (A desert deity claims Alexi's people as her own, hence her hair and the mark.)  And Shiloh describes Alexi as being a few inches taller than her.  But that's about it.

When I started, I didn't know how to have Shiloh describe Alexi's figure, and Shiloh describing herself felt strange to me.  So I skipped it, figured I'd add it in later.  But I gave it some thought and realized it was better that way.

Modern culture has some ridiculous image issues when it comes to women.  I'm a guy, so I'm subjected to this less, but... seriously.  It seems that any woman who's in the spotlight in any way will have her appearance picked apart at every opportunity, and two different women will be criticized for opposite things.  I see and hear this everywhere - someone is too tall, too short, too thin, too heavy, too dark, too light, wearing too much makeup, not wearing enough makeup, dressed too sexy, not dressed sexy enough...

Just typing all that up makes my head hurt.  And I decided not to subject my characters to that.

Fictional characters aren't free from all this; I've seen the same barbed comments directed at women across multiple fandoms.  So I decided to not describe my heroines' body types, and let the readers picture them however they want.  This wasn't easy for me - I do a lot of description because I want my readers to see what I see in my head.  But I read something once, where a reader said that they were overweight, so they tended to imagine the characters they read about as overweight.  I gave it some thought and decided I was fine with that.

For the record, I picture Shiloh as skinny, and Alexi as athletic with some curves.  But if someone, for example, wants to picture Shiloh as chubby and Alexi as tall and willowy, that's okay.  It's a little weird to me to give something like that up to the reader, but if it means my characters won't get saddled with other issues just because of how I describe them, I'm fine with leaving that out.  And it won't affect how I picture them, or how I write them.

Next entry: probably something about rewriting an ending, because that's what I have to look forward to this week.  Grr.  Arg.


  1. Replies
    1. It's amazing how often that's the right answer. ^_^

  2. Kudos to you for doing this. I find it so frustrating that even fictional women are picked apart!
    Love the Accidental Warlock title, that alone makes me interested in the book.

    1. Thank you. It's sad and a little worrisome how mean some people are to characters; I can imagine some of the crap my own characters will get if TAW gets published and it's not pretty. -_-

      And thanks, people seem to really like the title. ^_^ It was my second choice, but I think it's worked out well.

  3. I really respect and admire not only your choice to leave this up to the reader, but also your awareness of the issue. That's amazing. The more writers who have the same awareness, the better chance we can make a change. Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you, truly. I'm a video gamer too, and sexism has been a huge topic in that hobby recently, so that's done a ton for my awareness of this and related issues. To say nothing of how much discussion has come up recently among some writers I follow on Twitter.

      Granted, I'm here to tell stories. But I love writing female characters, so if I can write them well and with respect, then I think I'm doing all right. ^_^

  4. I hate describing my characters, and I really try not to go too much into detail (if they're human) for this same reason. I want my readers to be able to imagine them however they need to, in order to connect to them. I might give up some hair or eye color as a distinguishing characteristic, but beyond that I really try to leave things up to my readers, particularly when their appearance really makes no difference to their character or the plot.

    What I'm saying is -- I'm totally with you on the less is more boat, in this instance!

    1. It really is different when you're not dealing with humans, isn't it? @_@ And yeah, if something about a character's appearance is important to to who they are, then the reader needs to know. But some things can be left to the reader's imagination.