Mona Lisa and Maserati

What is beauty and what makes a man?

Evoking memorable characters and a convincing story world requires that you be specific and innovative.  Vivid characters who surprise us are the ones we are most likely to become emotionally involved with, and a world constructed with closely observed sensory details can become a reality for your readers that no matter how far-fetched, is believable.

If we want our readers to care, then we must care about what words we use. Some words – fun, beautiful, scary, amazing, special – are so overused they have lost their ability to convey anything meaningful – in fact they are bland.

“A beautiful woman walked into the waiting room, spoke with the receptionist and took a seat.”  gives us no meaningful information about the woman.

As a writer, you must define beauty in your story using the five senses, sight, sound, touch, taste smell: let’s take the ‘beautiful’ woman above and put her in a scene:

A woman in a white shearling coat entered the waiting room, her boot heels hammered the linoleum, her silk scarf painted the air with amber spice, causing men and women to turn. She rushed to the window labeled ‘Patient Registration’ and after a brief exchange she turned and looked around, her dark eyes and mocha skin the more striking for their contrast to the white faces looking back at her.   Rather than sit between two children with runny noses, she took an empty seat beside an elderly man in a pressed suit. Watching the registration window she commenced to wait. Something about her upstaged everything, the bloody noses, broken bones, the heart attacks, but not in the way she had dreamed of.

Exploit every opportunity to tell us something about your characters and their world – how they move, what they wear, what they say, how they say it, and how others respond to them.  Pack every sentence with information that invites your reader to experience the world you have created for them, to convince them of your characters, their lives, their woes.

The word ‘beauty’ is no longer adequate – it does not engage your reader in the ‘thought process’ discussed in Creative Editing – effective writing engages readers in an active thought process, a feeling process, a sensory process.

If someone buys flowers, are they tulips? Sun flowers? Roses?  For the woman in the shearling coat, it matters what kind of flowers she is given – would she inspire a gift of daisies? Not likely – lilies, maybe, but probably orchids.  Why?  Because this character is exotic and perhaps fragile. Be convincing by being specific.

As a writer, choose to believe that what a man drives reveals who he is: “George hesitated before driving his car up to the valet parking sign” doesn’t tell us much about George – who he is, where he is, or why he’s hesitating.

© Steve Mann |

George hesitated before steering his Maserati GranTurismo convertible toward the valet parking sign at LaForchette’s elegant entrance. He imagined all eyes on his 4.7-liter V8 polished machine as he accelerated up the drive.


George hesitated before steering his prehistoric AMC Rambler wagon toward the valet parking sign at LaForchette’s elegant entrance. He felt all eyes on his vintage, 3 speed manual transmission nightmare as he lurched up the drive.

These are two different men – they hesitate at the entrance for different reasons.  Likely that George #1 doesn’t want anyone touching his car, the embodiment of his worth. George #2 knows that anyone witnessing his entrance is going to judge his car to be the embodiment of his worth.  Or, in a completely different world, George #1 and #2 could be the same man at different points of a rags to riches or riches to rags story.

Does a character who wears scarlet to a funeral have something to say? How about the man who wears work boots to a black tie event? Or the mother of the bride who wears black? What does it say about your character if she wears 3 inch heels on moving day?  You are the one dressing your characters – what they wear is significant.  Don’t waste any opportunity to make a statement.

Now write your own version of beauty, conjure someone you see as beautiful and convince us that it is true by giving us details – define beauty using your sense of touch, smell, sight, taste, hearing. Give your characters a constellation of qualities that could drive someone mad, make them fall in love and do crazy things.

© Berlinfoto |

Or – write a ‘car’ story that demonstrates that a man is what he drives, or define who your character is by showing us what discordant item they wear to an event or gathering.

When you have finished feel free to post your story here.

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