Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Character Description

So I'm currently reading Misery by Stephen King, and though I'm only about 25% through it, I'm enjoying it immensely. It's suspenseful, but it's also fascinating from a stylistic perspective. I'll have to reserve my full judgment until I finish it of course, but right now it's shaping up to be one of my all-time favorite Stephen King novels--and that's saying a lot. (I'm also looking forward to watching the film once I finish the book, which I've also never seen.)

My copy totally has this retro cover btw.

When King's on, he's really on, folks. This guy is a professional that knows what he's doing. Check out one of my favorite sequences so far, the character description of the infamous Annie Wilkes:
That prescient part of his mind saw her before he knew he was seeing her, and must surely have understood her before he knew he was understanding her--why else did he associate such dour, ominous images with her? Whenever she came into the room he thought of the graven images worshipped by superstitious African tribes in the novels of H. Rider Haggard, and stones, and doom.
The image of Annie Wilkes as an African idol out of She or King or Solomon's Mines was both ludicrous and queerly apt. She was a big woman who, other than the large but unwelcoming swell of her bosom under the gray cardigan sweater she always wore, seemed to have no feminine curves at all--there was no defined roundness of hip or buttock or even calf below the endless succession of wool skirts she wore in the house (she retired to her unseen bedroom to put on jeans before doing her outside chores). Her body was big but not generous. There was a feeling about her of clots and roadblocks rather than welcoming orifices or even open spaces, areas of hiatus.
Most of all she gave him a disturbing sense of solidarity, as if she might not have any blood vessels or even internal organs; as if she might be only solid Annie Wilkes from side to side and top to bottom. He felt more and more convinced that her eyes, which appeared to move, were actually just painted on, and they moved no more than the eyes of portraits which appear to follow you to wherever you move in the room where they hang. It seemed to him that if he made the first two fingers of his hand into a V and attempted to poke them up her nostrils, they might go less than an eighth of an inch before encountering a solid (if slightly yielding) obstruction; that even her gray cardigan and frumpy house skirts and faded outside-work jeans were part of that solid fibrous unchannelled body. So his feelings that she was like an idol in a perfervid novel was not really surprising at all. Like an idol, she gave only one thing: a feeling of unease deepening steadily toward terror. Like an idol, she took everything else. 
Wow. That's a character description if I've ever seen one. I particularly love the third paragraph and the description of her "solidarity"--so vivid, so interestingly written.

I'll admit, the habit of extended character descriptions like the one above are sort of out of style these days--many authors, including myself most of the time, favor minimalist descriptions. I personally like leaving as much of my character to the reader as possible, although there are certainly moments when I want more concrete physicality for one reason or another and I spend a bit more time with description. That said, I think part of why they're out of style is people attempted something like what King did above, but failed at it, making it long, boring, repetitive, and useless. I have to say, if more descriptions like this one popped up, I'd be pretty happy about it.

Anyway. Character description. Stephen King. Misery. Good stuff.

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