Have you ever read a book where a character is described as “too nice?”
Sometimes an amateur novelist, knowing that they should have faults, decides to worm in a loophole and say that a character is “too much” of a good thing, because they can’t bear to have anything truly nasty coming from their main character. Less amateur authors will do the same thing, but they’ll be more subtle about, usually having the statement come from another character expressing concern. Oftentimes it’s little more than an excuse to talk about how the main character is so self-sacrificing and generous that we should all rush to go help on their quest.
It drives me batty, because there really is such a thing as being too nice, too generous, etc. And I want to see it used more in fiction.
Picking flaws for a character is not (always) a matter of drawing random traits out of a hat. Positive and negative traits go hand-in-hand, and usually they’re really the same trait, just in different circumstances. (This is not 100% true, some things are going to be all good or all bad, but for most major things it still holds.) Instead of having ‘good’ traits and ‘bad traits,’ it’s more helpful to think of your character as having just…traits. Personality points that produce both negative and positive outcomes. Which is how you can run into the “too nice” character.
Descriptions are a way to suck your reader into your world. You tell them what’s going on in the world and you do it so well you make it real. In order to make it real, you need to make it feel real. You need to make your reader feel exactly what it is like in that scene.
To do that, you need to make them feel, smell, sound, see, and taste; you need to engage their senses. Sensory details are at the very core of all descriptions and all of them are important.
- Sight – Visual description is the most common form of description, since we take details in primarily through our eyes. I don’t need to impress its importance on you.
- Sound – Behind sight, sound is the other most common sense engaged during description. If we don’t take things in through our eyes, we take them in through our ears. There is a list of words to describe sounds here, here, and here.
- Touch – You can’t always use this sense, because the character isn’t always physically touching something. When they are, though, telling your readers what something feels like can do wonders for your scene. Even when the character isn’t touching something, describing how something feels emotionally or how the character feels about something is very important. There is a list of words to describe how physically touching something feels here, here, and here.
- Smell – I always feel like smell gets short changed in most descriptive passages. Smell is a very powerful sense, especially when it comes to memory. If I smell Wild Berry deodorant, I’m not sitting in front of my computer; I’m in 6th grade science class in the autumn. Scent is also a great way to tell your readers what something is like if your characters can’t see clearly. There is a list of words to describe smells here, here, and here.
- Taste – We naturally associate taste with having something in our mouths, but we can also “taste” things in the air. Most of us know the “taste” of household cleaners, gasoline, cold air, and garbage. There is a list of words to describe tastes here, here, and here.
Adjectives are the describing words that give the reader information about nouns. Nouns tell you what it is and adjectives tell you how it is. Adjectives are your best friends when describing scenes. Most of the links I gave you for the sensory details lead you to lists of adjectives. Here are more adjective lists for your perusal.
Adjectives are fantastic, but remember that adjectives help the noun. They are not the focus of your descriptive sentences. Overuse of adjectives leads to the dreaded purple prose. Likewise, underuse of adjectives leads to beige prose (see below for purple and beige prose). You need to find the happy medium.
You should try to limit yourself to one to three adjectives per sentence. Consider the following sentence:
The cerulean, azure depths of the sparkling sea shimmered with alluring emerald hints.
What I’m trying to say is that the blue sea has green in it. What I’m telling you is a load of mishmash with too many adjectives. It’s too cluttered. Not to mention it contains a bunch unnecessary descriptors. The reader knows that the ocean is primarily blue. They also know it’s sparkling because you mentioned it’s sunny earlier in your description. You don’t need the blue crap or the shimmering crap to create a good description.
The crests of the waves turned green in the sunlight.
There. More specific, less cluttered, and more concise.
You can write descriptions without adjectives, especially by using similes and metaphors (see immediately below).
The woods were a labyrinth.
The leaves burned with autumn colors.
The cactus’ shadow stretched over the old hacienda.
Indeed, I strongly advise you periodically include sentences without adjectives to vary the sentence style in your descriptions.
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC (according to conventional Egyptian chronology) with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh. The history of ancient Egypt occurred in a series of stable Kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age. 
- Ancient Egyptian Culture; Names in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egyptian Names Revealed
- Behind the Names: Ancient Egyptian Names
- List of Egyptian God Names
- Egyptian Name Translator
Society & Life
- Egypt Weather and Climate
- Ancient Egyptian Life
- Egypt’s Golden Empire, New Kingdom, Egyptian Society
- The Social Classes in Ancient Egypt
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- Welcome to the Ancient Egyptian Home
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- Dues and Duties in Ancient Egypt
- Priests in Ancient Egypt
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- Ancient Egypt Farming
- The Farmer and His Tools
- Ancient Egypt: Farmed and Domesticated Animals
- Agriculture in Ancient Egypt
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- Maps of Ancient Egypt
- Administration - The Provinces of Upper Egypt
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- Nomes, Cities and Sites
- Cities and Citizens
- Ancient Egyptian Calender
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- Cats in Ancient Egypt
- The Cat in Ancient Egypt
- The Dogs of Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egypt: Religion
- Encyclopedia Mythica: Egyptain Mythology
- Religion in Ancient Egypt - Bull Cults
- The Gods and Goddess of Ancient Egypt
- Religion in Ancient Egypt - The Gods and Goddess
- Shabi, Shawabti and Ushabti
- Mysteries of Ancient Egypt
- The List of Kings in Ancient Egypt
- Pharaoh: Lord of the Two Lands
- Ancient Egyptian Institutions: The Harem
- The Great Pyramids and More
- The Monuments of Ancient Egypt - Temples, Tombs and Pyramids
- Mummification in Ancient Egypt
- An Overview of Mummification in Ancient Egypt
- Travel and Trade in Ancient Egypt
- Travel in Ancient Egypt
- Chariots in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egypt: Means of Transportation
- A Kid in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egypt for Kids
- Childhood in Ancient Egypt
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- Ancient Egypt Education and Learning
- Women in Ancient Egyptian
- Ancient Egypt for Women
- Women in Ancient Egypt
- A Day in the Life of Nafrini, An Ancient Egyptian Woman
- Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egypt Marriage and the Standing of Women
- Ancient Egypt: Man and Woman
- The Ancient Egyptian Bride
- Marriage in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egyptian Society and Family Life
- Marriage in Ancient Egypt
- Papyrus Marriage Contract
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- Drink, Drugs and Sex
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- Food and Drinks in Ancient Egypt
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- Fishing and Hunting
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- The Diet (Food) of the Ancient Egyptians
- The Food of the Ancient Egyptians
- An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Music
- Music in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egypt: Music and Dance
- Dance and Dances in Ancient Egypt
- Harper’s song (or Song of the Harper)
- Ancient Egypt: Play and Games
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- Ancient Egyptian Art & Music
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- Papyrus of Ani (Translated Book of the Dead)
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Hygiene, Health & Medicine
- Old Age in Ancient Egypt (Life Expectancy)
- Medicine in Ancient Egypt
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- Birth Control Timeline
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- Natural Remedies Used in Ancient Egypt
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- Ancient Egypt: Medicine
- Ancient Egyptian Medicine
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- Menstruation in Ancient Egypt
- The History of Plumbing in Ancient Egypt
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- Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egyptian Eye Makeup
- Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection
- Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics: Also Medicine For Eye Disease?
- Ancient Egypt: Clothing
- Ancient Egyptian Society: Clothing
- Women’s Clothing and Fashion in Ancient Egyptian
- Ancient Egypt: Flax and Linen
- Dyeing Fabric and Leather
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- Jewelry of Ancient Egypt: Bracelets
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- Ancient Egyptian Perfume
- Ancient Egypt: Prefume Making
- Cultural Fashions: Ancient Egypt - Clothing Types
- The Fashion Historian: Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egyptian Footwear (PDF)
- Egyptian Footwear
- Ancient Shoes Turn Up in Egypt Temple
- The History of Underwear
- Leather Loincloth
- Loincloth and Loin Skirt
- A Modern Problem as Old as the Pyramids
- Egyptian Beauty Secrets: Haircare and Wigs
- Great Hair Days in Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Egyptian Hairstyles
- Ancient Egypt: Hair and Wigs
- Hieroglyphs Tutorial, Part 1
- Hieroglyphs Tutorial, Part 2
- Hieroglyphs Pronunciation Guide
- Glossary of Ancient Egyptian Terms and Names
- Transliterations and Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian
- The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian
Justice & Crime
- Law and the Legal System in Ancient Egypt
- Law and Order in Ancient Egypt
- The Ancient Egyptian Police
- Ancient Egypt: Warfare
- The Evolution of Warfare Part 1
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- War in Ancient Egypt
- The Ancient Egyptian Navy
- The Enemies of Ancient Egypt
- The Military Man in Ancient Egypt
- Equipment (Weapons) of Pharaoh’s Military
- Projectile Type Weapons of Ancient Egypt
- Defensive Equipment of the Egyptian Army
- Weapons in Ancient Egypt
Anonymous asked: One of my OCs is SO unreliable. He’s a complete liar. If you pay attention, he’ll make statements that slightly contradict with what he’s previously said, but they’re slight enough that they’re easy to miss. Usually my viewpoint character doesn’t notice what he just said doesn’t make sense with his previous statements. His dialogue is done this way on purpose, but I just realized reader might see the incongruity as a mistake on my part. Should I worry about this? Any suggestions?Don’t worry about it. There is actually a character type called the “unreliable narrator” where it’s the viewpoint character who is unreliable, and it’s actually quite popular in fiction. In most unreliable narrator cases, there does tend to be discussion about whether or not the character is unreliable or the inconsistencies are continuity errors, but that is just one of the things that gets people thinking about a story and gets them to talking. What’s important is that you keep the facts straight yourself and with your other characters, as that will be used as evidence to support that the character is unreliable rather than you, the writer. ;)
For more information, you can Google “unreliable narrators,” and although the advice is specific to narrators, you might find a lot of the information helpful and applicable to your non-main character.
miss-ingno asked: I've seen a lot of female characters in fiction being sorted into two camps: the "weak" emotional, sensitive females and the "strong" cold-hearted, kickass females. I'm always scared that when I write that my female characters fall in either those categories or are left behind in a tag-on love-interest way. Or become Mary Sues. How do you find a balance?
DANGER, WILL ROBINSON. THIS QUESTION IS A TRAP.
I mean, look, it’s not your fault that it’s a trap; don’t feel bad. You didn’t build the trap. You may not even know you’re in there — god knows I didn’t, in the years I spent asking myself and others this question and questions like it. It’s a good trap. It’s tricky. It gets almost everyone, at some point or another. There are a lot of people who never actually find their way out.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it. A trap is easiest to identify in action, after all. Let me show you how it works.
You should write strong women — but not too strong, because then you’re saying that only strong women are valuable, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. So you should write weak women — but not too weak, because then you’re saying that all women are weak, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. So you should write women who are both strong and weak — but only in the right ways, of course, because if you write women who show strength and weakness in the wrong ways then you’re only enforcing the idea that women can’t handle themselves, which is wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. Make sure you write women with flaws, because that’s how you develop interesting characters — but not too many flaws, and definitely not the wrong ones, because then you’re saying that all women are inherently flawed, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. But don’t write them without flaws, because then they’re too perfect, and that makes them a Mary Sue, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. HOW DARE YOU WRITE WOMEN WRONG. Don’t you think it would be better not to write women at all?
See? It’s a trap. And it’s not even a trap in the way you think, either, because the issue here isn’t that you can nitpick out in any direction and then yell HERE IS AN ARBITRARY REASON YOU ARE DOING WOMEN WRONG — that’s a problem, don’t get me wrong, and its own trap to boot, but it’s not what we’re talking about right now. Like, it definitely sucks, but that happens all the time about all kinds of things (Women shouldn’t sleep with too many people, BUT ALSO NOT TOO FEW; women shouldn’t compromise themselves for their spouses, BUT HOW DARE THEY NOT DO THAT; I could go on but, like, why), and it doesn’t have shit to do with how you tell a story unless you let it.
Naw, friend, the trap here is the idea that you are writing women. You’re not. You’re writing a woman. One person. Every time you write a female character, that’s what you’re writing — just that one. She’s not an archetype, she’s not a statement on All Women Ever, she’s just a person. Singular. Solo. The same way (I hope?) you don’t think, “What is this male character saying about every single dude who has ever walked this earth?” whenever you write guys, so you should avoid thinking that when you write ladies. They’re just people. They don’t have to Be Everything — the idea that women have to Be Everything is enough of a drag in day to day life, you know? It doesn’t need to be given any room to strut around in your writing.
Build her, and not who you think she’s supposed to be: that’s how I do it. What’s she afraid of? What does she believe in? What’s the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to her? The best meal she’s ever had? How would she describe herself if she had only five words to do it? What makes her laugh? What makes her cry? What does she think people want her to be, and what does she want to be, and is there a space between those things, and how does she fill it, if there is?
Nadia, one of the main characters in my novel — she’s a chef, because she likes the simplicity of food, the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to disappoint it, that its nuance is in physical construction as opposed to conceptual tone. She’s spent so much of her life desperately trying and cataclysmically failing to be the person her parents want her to be that she projects a certain amount of hostility towards everyone else, almost daring them to demand anything of her at all. She is hesitant to trust, because she has regretted trusting in the past, and she’s the sort of person who takes regret as a sign that she, herself, has done something wrong, something she should resist repeating in the future. She sneers because she’s used to being sneered at. She smiles when she feels someone has earned it, because that’s more or less the only way she’s ever received that reaction herself. And the thing is, for all I know this now? When I first thought about her, all I knew was her name and her profession. But I built her out out from that, thinking about how she, personally, came to be where she was, as opposed to how women, in general, might come to be in that place. It’s a much more effective strategy, in my experience. Less anxiety-producing, too.
Whoever your female character is, the more you know about her as a person — the more real she feels to you — the less you will feel like that other shit, the what-if-I’m-writing-women-wrong-shit, matters. Because it doesn’t; the truth is the trick, the really important thing to remember in writing women, is to write them one at a time. To write them into individuals, as opposed to into boxes. I hope that helps <3