She said, "It reads like a sequel." Of course, we both know it is, but she suggested more details, both about Mapleton and the locals. Before I plunged in and added details, I needed to look at the first three books to make sure I wasn't changing things around. Putting the mayor's office on the wrong floor, or moving other buildings, for example. Or taking a tall, skinny character and making him short and fat, or white when he was African American in another book.
You know what I found? Very little. Most of my character descriptions throughout the entire series were painted with very broad brush strokes. A few words here and there, but I never stopped to give a full-blown description.
Ozzie is the cook at Daily Bread and appears off and on in most of the books. This is all the description I had for him:
He checked the counter, where Ozzie, whose broad girth and extra chins attested to enjoying his own cooking. … Ozzie plunked a mug in front of him and filled it with hot, black coffee, a shade or two darker than his skin.
For Gordon, the hero of all the books, there's almost nothing. In book 1, Megan, a female lead, notices his eyes:
Somewhere between blue and green, the color of Aspen Lake after it rained. (And, because she's a woman, she'll notice things in a more 'picturesque' fashion than Gordon, the cop, does).
Later, she's describing a man she saw to Gordon.
"I remember noticing the Florida plates, assumed he was a retiree. Maybe because he was bald, but that's silly. Guys can go bald at almost any age."
Gordon rubbed the top of his head, thankful he wasn't one of them.
Here, the reader can see that Gordon does have a full head of hair, and that he's a bit vain about it as well.
Laurie, Gordon's admin, has been in all four books, and all we know about her is that she worked for Gordon's predecessor for over a decade before Gordon became Chief, she's very efficient, and she has a daughter.
I admit to my lack of physical descriptions of my characters in my mysteries. I prefer to show their personalities. For example, Ed Solomon, one of the best cops on Gordon's staff, is never described, yet we know that as well as being a good cop, he has a wife and kids, he's a good father, and he has a sense of humor.
At other times, there are specific bits of description, but I like to include a little more about the character along with the physical traits.
Detective Colfax, who's a semi-regular, is introduced as follows:
Mid-forties. Average height, beginnings of a paunch, but his relaxed stance was deceptively casual. Steel-blue eyes grabbed every detail. Soft-spoken, but people did what he said, no questions asked, Gordon knew, after working with him earlier.
I think Michael Connelly said in all his Harry Bosch books, he had a total of about 80 words of description. John Sandford said he summarizes Lucas Davenport as "tall, black hair, a scar on his cheek and a clothes horse." There's something to be said for letting readers fill in the details. Lee Child's descriptions of Jack Reacher weren't extensive, but they were enough to have fans in an uproar when Tom Cruise was cast to play the 250 pound, 6-4 man with hands the size of hams.
(My romantic suspense books are another story, but there's no room to go into that today.) One final point. My editor edited the first three Mapleton books as well, and this is the first time she's mentioned wanting more description.
What about you? Do you like broad brush strokes or a lot of detail?
|Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.|