Part of the challenge of writing is leaving a lasting impression with the reader. Not simply the plot but key characters.
Think of Charles Dickens’ two-page description of Scrooge in The Christmas Carol which included:
Oh! He was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”
So, I’m looking back on some of my favorite character descriptions and want to share them with you, dear reader. Here goes.
From the upcoming Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, a contemporary thriller, the third book in the Max’s and Kat’s Thrill of the Hunt series. It’s about Macmoud Aaqil Farooq, leader of The Three Sixes caliphate’s European and African region:
This man did not fear. Fear itself cast a sullen glance in his direction before skulking way. The blood on his hands spanned continents and hemispheres. His greatest triumphs—insh Allah—had left Parisians, Americans, Germans, Italians and Londoners weeping on their knees.
From True North: Tice’s Story when the escaping slave Tice meets naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau, who is “conducting” him toward Boston:
“I believe,” Thoreau said, “there are things beyond what we can see or feel or smell.”
“Oh. God!” Tice said.
Thoreau smiled. “You might say. I call him that.”
“Good, ’cause it’s what He calls Hisself.” Tice grinned, glad he could exchange words with this obviously grand man.
Also from Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, revealing the relationship between Max Braxton and Sam Gronkowsky:
They’d trained together, fought together, dug a latrine together, cleaned each others’ M4s. Max had hot-bombed Sam’s field ration with cayenne pepper and Sam had blasted him out of bed at three in the morning with a shofar shriek that would peel the hide off a bull.
Another from Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, Max’s comparison of Kat’s new bodyguard, IDF veteran Kefira “Keffy” Jankel, and her former bodyguard, Idan:
“Idan’s a one-man Davidka [Israeli mortar used in the War of Independence]. Keffy? She’s a one-woman Cruise missile. Idan could wipe out probably a half-dozen jihadists at a time. Keffy’d take out a squadron.”
From The Crossing, a story of the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s, this aside about lumberjack Jigger Jacques breaking up a log jam on a river:
“The Jig,” Andre interjected, “got right down in there, gave a little nudge to just the right log, and when that wall of wood came down on him—”
“He just hopped aboard like he was gettin’ on a train headin’ south,” Yvan chortled.
“Yessiree, Jigger,” said a young man standing next to him, “I believe you could ride the bubbles of a bar of soap to shore in a hurricane.”
From The Last Aliyah in which retired Red Sox player Bunyan “Jacko” Jackson is a “conductor” on a modern-day Underground Railroad, secreting Jews out of a hostile America. He has just received news that the US Senate has approved a United Nations resolution banning Jewish emigration to Israel:
Jackson’s mouth went dry. He scowled at the phone as if it were a Yankee pitcher, or an implement that could answer the stark question: How could the United States do this to its own people?
Max’s first assessment of Kat in Chasing the Music, the first of the Thrill of the Hunt series:
She was obviously a lady of class, of elegance—a refined woman who didn’t need to gussy up to look absolutely tantalizing. Green eyes. Short-cut, curly red hair. Lanky, athletic, about five-foot-eight, thirty-five-ish. No wedding band. Wearing khaki shorts and, he might say, very well indeed.
If she was available, he was interested. He had no romantic ties, no children, just a $1,000-a-month alimony and a train wreck of bad memories.
Also from Chasing the Music:
Kat turned to better observe this man beside her. Six-foot-two-ish, forty-two-ish, short, curly black hair with streaks of premature gray. (Thoughts of Jeff Chandler, the movie star of yesteryear, invaded her mind.) Square-jawed with a square face. If the SEALs had wanted a poster boy, this guy would be the choice.
She could visualize Max in Steve McQueen’s place on top of the motorcycle in The Great Escape, or behind the wheel of the Mustang in Bullitt, or slapping cuffs on a bad guy as bounty hunter Doc, or—and this widened her smile—flying off with Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair. In her vision she was Faye Dunaway. She caught herself smiling.
I’d love to hear some of your favorite descriptions from your favorite books.
Meanwhile, come October 15, check out Operation Jeremiah’s Jar. I think you’ll love the action, the plot, the subplot — the whole works.
In fact, check out all my books at http://www.markalanleslie.com.