The way an author describes things also tells us much about the viewpoint character. For example, in Inkheart the author introduces a mysterious character from the viewpoint of the twelve year old girl Meggie.
“How old is she now?” Dustfinger smiled at her. It was a strange smile. Meggie couldn’t decide whether it was mocking, supercilious, or just awkward. She didn’t smile back.
“Twelve,” said Mo.
“Twelve? My word!” Dustfinger pushed his dripping hair back from his forehead. It reached almost to his shoulders. Meggie wondered what color it was when it was dry. The stubble around his narrow-lipped mouth was gingery, like the fur of the stray cat Meggie sometimes fed with a saucer of milk outside the door. Ginger hair sprouted on his cheeks, too, sparse as a boy’s first beard but not long enough to hid three long, pale scars. They made Dustfinger’s face look as if it had been smashed and stuck back together again (Funke 6).
Look at how telling that description of Dustfinger is about Meggie. She’s not the one being described, but her description tells us tons. Even though she’s twelve, she’s smart and well-read. How do we know that? She uses the word “supercilious.” That is not average twelve year old vocabulary, or average adult vocabulary anymore. You wouldn’t hear Huck Finn say that word, or Peter Pan, or Katniss Everdeen. It’s a word unique to Meggie and her sophisticated, educated brain. What else does this description tell us? It tells us that Meggie is kind and likes to take care of things, like the stray cat she feeds. It also tells us that she has an imaginative mind since she describes how the scars on Dustfinger’s face make it look “as if it had been smashed and stuck back together again.”
The key thing about description and voice is that you need to stick to descriptive terms your viewpoint character would use. The narrative voice greatly affects how you should describe things. Is the narrator the kind of person who keeps things short and precise, or are they the kind who rambles and goes off on tangents? Are they logical or emotional? Educated or uneducated? Modern day or Medieval? Everything abut the character will affect how they describe things, so it’s important to stay true to the character of the story’s voice. We don’t want to throw our readers out of the story by having out-of-character descriptions, like Huck Finn switching from his broken Southern to sophisticated English words like “ennui” and “chiaroscuro,” or even more modern slang like “radical” and “dude.” That would be bad. Don’t do it. STAY TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER.
Stay tuned for posts about Voice, and Description Part 3 – The Senses