Six Ways to Describe An Attractive Character

When it comes it describing an attractive character, “show don’t tell” is crucial. But how do you describe the love interest without just repeating “she was beautiful” or “he was drop-dead gorgeous”? Just like any kind of writing exposition, good description can make or break the introduction of a stunning new character. Never fear! Here are six ways to write about a good-looking guy or gal in your book without being boring, repetitive, or flat.

Get physical.
As with writing kissing scenes, physicality is, if not everything, then a lot of things. Instead of focusing on the purely visual aspects of an attractive character, focus on how their appearance affects the other characters. Stomach butterflies? Racing heart? Rising temperatures? Don’t hold back.

Use all five senses.
Another classic romance writing tip—but applying all five senses specifically to appearance of an attractive character is absolutely crucial. Don’t just focus on the visuals; consider how the person smells, sounds like when they talk, and feels (if your POV character is lucky enough to touch them, anyway!).

Don’t go crazy with adjectives.
Too many descriptors can make your character sound like a laundry list of features rather than an actual human being (or wolf shifter, or vampire, or whatever). A hero with “sapphire eyes” and “bronzed caramel skin” ends up being more distracting than specific to the reader—the ten-dollar words aren’t adding anything, and in a pile-up, can read as clumsy and amateurish.

Use voice.
All that said, it is actually okay to “tell” what the attractive character looks like—as long as it’s grounded in the voice of the narrator. Using the turns of phrase that your narrator is accustomed to in writing about an attractive character does double duty, because it not only conveys information about the character being described, but also the worldview and particular attitudes about the narrator.

Avoid cliché.
You know this, of course! But in romance and YA romance in particular, readers want writers to know how avoid clichés in their writing. Clichés make books feel generic, and make readers skim—which is the opposite of what you want! The only real way to avoid clichés is to know what they are in the first place, and the only way to know that is to read widely in your genre. It’s a fine line between delivering on genre expectations and settling too heavily into cliché, but the more you know about the other books in your category, the better you’ll be able to make your writing stand out.

Subtext, subtext, subtext.
Dialogue is a big part of showing off a character’s magnetic appeal. But it’s human nature that people don’t mean what they say or say what they mean. (Seriously, when was the last time you just walked up to someone and said “hey, you’re hot!”?) When your character is talking to someone they find attractive, what they talk about isn’t as important as the way they say it. Too much talking about mutual attraction outright is a sure way to kill tension. Amp up the mystery and sensuality by cloaking their real intentions—even a discussion over something as simple as grocery shopping can become electrically charged when attraction is at a fever pitch.

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The Right and Wrong Ways to Write Dual Point of View

Writing a book in alternating point of view is becoming more and more common. While books in the third person have often switched between several narrators (lookin’ at you, Harry Potter), “alternating POV” or “dual POV” refers to two (or occasionally more) first person narrators who trade off chapters or scenes to tell a story. For authors writing a YA love story, this can be a popular choice, because it allows the reader to get into the mind of two characters at once on an intimate, personal, sensory level.

But just because writing in alternating POV has advantages doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Like all stylistic choices, an author has to make it for a reason, and then follow through with the best execution possible. In short, there are good dual point of view books, and then there are…less good ones. Here’s how to know the different.

Right: There’s a reason to use two viewpoints.
Simple fact: writing craft matters. Stylistic decisions can’t be arbitrary. If one character is a relatively flat character, who won’t grow much over the course of the story and doesn’t have a lot of bearing on the action, is it really necessary for them to get a lion’s share of the narration? The best dual POV stories use the two narrators to tell two sides of a story (especially a crime or mystery—think Gone Girl), get inside the head of each character in a couple as they fall in love (like in Perfect Chemistry, Pushing the Limits, or He Said, She Said) or two characters who start in different geographical places and eventually come together (like Will Grayson, Will Grayson).

Wrong: Both viewpoints convey the same character growth, plot information, or thematic material.
Again, if the dual POV is just hitting the same notes again and again, it’s just dragging the pacing and taking twice as long to tell one story. Unless you’re going full-on Rashomon with your storytelling (which is a valid option!) you need to make sure your alternating POV doesn’t merely retell the same scene twice in a different voice.

Right: The voices sound—and look—distinct from one another.
Developing character voice is crucial in any book. Developing character voice in dual POV books is, well, twice as crucial. Good dual POV books have two narrators that sound entirely like themselves—and not like each other. They should use opposite (or contrasting) registers of speech, formality, slang, and so on. But consider, too, the amount of psychic distance in each: does one narrator wear her heart on her sleeve, while the other one keeps a tight lock on his emotions? Is one character up close and personal with sensory details, while the other is very much locked in intellectualizing and philosophy? Finally, consider the white space on the page. A very powerful way to distinguish between narrators is to utilize the psychological phenomena of white space on the page—a page with lots of line breaks and short paragraphs will subconsciously register as a very different voice than one with dense, wordy paragraphs.

Wrong: The voices are indistinguishable.
Once again, dual POV has to count! And if the experience of reading the two characters is the same for each, then there’s no reward for the reader. Give your book to an editor without the chapters named with narrators: can she tell which is which? If so, you’re doing great. If not…time to revise.

Right: The right character narrates the right scene.
Balancing which scenes get told by which characters is one of the trickiest parts of writing dual POV novels. Usually, one character shouldn’t dominate in terms of word count; you want an even split between the two. But well-executed dual POV not only balances the amount of “camera time” each narrator gets, but also makes sure that each scene is giving to the character whose POV will be most affecting in rendering the action. When it doubt, hand the narrative reins to the character who has the most to lose in that scene. That’s a surefire way to make sure that the emotional stakes for the narrator—and therefore the reader—will stay high.

Wrong: Some POV switches are just a “reset.”
If several scenes (or chapters) in a row are in the same character’s POV, it can be tempting to revise by inserting scenes in the other character’s POV in between to “break up” the stretches of the first character’s narration. But switching POVs just for its own sake doesn’t work; it just slows things down and waste the reader’s time. If you find yourself with lots of limp scenes in one character’s POV, you either have to find a way to insert some structure and dynamism to those scenes, or revisit whether dual POV is right for this story.

Right: Each character has their own world.
Setting might seem like the one thing that doesn’t change from character to character, but in fact it’s one of the most important things that does change. First person allows the reader to experience the setting through the eyes and experiences of a particular character…which means that each character who narrates will see the setting differently. A less-well-off character will notice the shabbiness of his bedroom and feel ashamed, while his wealthy co-narrator may only notice that he’s got a lot of basketball posters in there. Dual POV is always subjective, and setting is no exception.

Wrong: The writer gets no outside input.
Writing two first-person narrators in a single novel is essentially writing two entire stories—all the character growth, plot, pacing, and prose has to be there times two. While drafting may come easily, it can be easy to lose steam and hard to stay motivated while revising, since you’re so close to the material that it can be hard to tell whether or not you’ve broken any of these rules. You’ll really need someone who isn’t you—who doesn’t know these characters as intimately as you do—to gauge whether or not you’re pulling it off. An outside editor can really help bring a professional and impartial eye to your work, and make your dual POV shine.

 

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Writing a romance kissing scene

How to Write A Heart-Stopping Kissing Scene

There comes a time in writing a romance novel (even writing a YA romance!) when it’s time to, well, kiss and tell. Even if you’re writing a romance with no clichés, a first kiss is pretty much a given. Your characters are dying for it, your readers are definitely dying for it, and all the action of the story has built to this one moment. So how do you write a love scene that starts out with a kiss—and delivers everything the reader wants?

Build to the kiss to create romantic tension.
By the time your characters lock lips, they should be desperate to do it—whether they’re conscious of it or not. Each scene that precedes the kissing scene should build on the characters’ budding desire for each other, and the subtler, the better. Ground your character’s reactions in the physical (racing heart, fluttery stomach, hyperawareness of the other person’s presence) so that your reader knows they want to kiss the romantic interest long before they do.

Pick a good scene location.
Maybe your story naturally lends itself to the kiss occurring in a particular place—writing a fantasy romance with a long voyage? They’ll probably just have to kiss on the windswept face of a mountain—but if you can be flexible, try to change it up. Where’s a location that both characters feel comfortable? How about uncomfortable? What about a place they can’t stay in for long—tension! Or a place that’s just plain hilarious.

Throw a curveball.
Similarly, maybe there’s a reason your characters get to—or have to!—kiss that isn’t motivated by their own desires for each other. A school play, a need to create a distraction, a dare, a few too many beers…start with a convoluted premise and let the feelings play out. The suddenness of the kiss will shock the reader…and then delight her.

Don’t get too mushy.
“Is this a kissing book?” Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to get goopy with your language. Keep your prose lean and your adjectives to a minimum; forget all the “limpid pools” and “soft as rose petals” and let your character’s authentic voice shine through. If they’re sarcastic, let them be a little funny and wry. If they’re angsty, let them struggle with the onslaught of emotion. Temper the romance with reality to keep it grounded and authentic.

Try not to name too many feelings.
Kissing is an overwhelming act of physical affection—so much so that people don’t tend to verbalize their emotions while they’re doing it. A character isn’t going to think “I’m so happy!” “This must be love!” when she’s kissing that cutie for the first time, so don’t take that shortcut for the sake of telegraphing to the reader what she’s feeling. Instead…

Use all your senses.
The great part about kissing (ahem) is that it involves so many physical sensations—touch, of course, but also (ahem again) taste. But don’t limit yourself to the obvious: consider what your characters are hearing, what their kissing partner looks and smells like, and generally what’s going on around them. How does the air feel around them? The couch they’re sitting on? THe smell of the sweaty house party? Don’t editorialize the kissing scene with too many labels; just notice every sensation they’re feeling and transcribe it to the page.

Leave your reader wanting more.
The first kiss isn’t the time for eternal promises. Even if this couple is going to get the happily ever after they deserve, the first kiss isn’t when they figure that out. Ending your first kiss scene with a pledge of fidelity isn’t just moving too fast—it’s boring. Without the question of whether the couple will end up together hanging in the air, the romance loses all its tension. Writing a good romantic scene at this stage in the manuscript (unless the first kiss is literally the last scene, or close to) means giving your reader a reason to keep going—and the only way to do that is to withhold the resolution.

 

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How to Write A YA Romance Without Cliché

YA fans are some of the most dedicated readers on the planet: they buy tons of books, tear through them voraciously, and worship the couples that earn their adoration. But write flat, stereotypical, or hackneyed, and these readers will not be pleased. The good news is, with a little smart revision (and not too much revision), you can make sparks fly. Whether you’re writing a fairy tale retelling, fantasy, or contemporary, here are some strategies for writing a romance that’s truly one in a million.

Cool it with all the physical description.
Do we need to know that your heroine has auburn hair, full lips, a sprinkling of freckles, and long eyelashes? Writing extensive paragraphs describing your characters is—no pun intended—a turn-off. It means you’re not trusting the reader to picture the characters herself, it slows down the action, and it weakens the writing overall. Use description as a springboard to establish the voice of the POV character, but don’t overdo it.

Avoid the oh-so-quirky factor.
There’s nothing wrong with the adorkable character: it works for Zooey Deschanel, and it works for many stories on the page. But there are some too-precious elements that can be huge turnoffs, not just to readers, but to agents, editors, and other industry pros, too. These include, but are not limited to: wearing Chuck Taylors, “half-smiling,” green eyes, curly hair, and anything that makes a heroine “not like other girls.” These things may seem original, but in fact, they’re tired and insufferable. Instead, branch out by writing heroes and heroines who don’t fit in the conventional modes of “beauty” and would normally be overlooked; that’s a real opportunity for nonconformism.

Make your characters imperfect.
This does not mean giving them small but forgivable charming qualities (see above), but instead, really digging deep and making them human. Write characters that are occasionally sloppy, mean, selfish, lazy, or rude. They need to feel like people—and teenage people at that. It’s okay to let them be cranky once in a while. Just so long as they don’t become unredeemable misanthropes, readers will appreciate the candor and authenticity of characters that gripe and flounder—rather than sail effortlessly—through life.

Dial back the physical beauty.
Similarly, don’t make your characters paragons of physical attractiveness. Not only does it reinforce cultural stereotypes of what’s “beautiful” and “acceptable” (e.g., girls who are white, thin, and able-bodied), but it makes your characters’ personalities worth less. If the love interest only likes your character for their looks, why should the reader assume there’s anything more to him or her?

NO instalove.
It’s what it sounds like: two characters that fall, well, instantly in love. Attraction takes time, and is confusing, and is often hidden under layers of competing feelings like envy, anxiety, or dislike. Don’t have your characters lay their feelings bare too early—it robs your story of momentum, and gives reviewers an easy slip-up to pounce on.

Cut out the tired phrasing.
“I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.” “I melted at his touch.” “I shattered into a thousand pieces.” This bordering-on-purple prose will irk a reader at best, and at worst, make her throw the book across the room. Find unique ways to express your character’s inner monologue, and don’t rely on what YA is “supposed to sound like.” Some of the most romantic, unexpectedly sexy moments in romance use words and phrases that aren’t anywhere near the stock vocabulary of love and romance. Be creative.

Make it awkward.
Do you remember your first teenage kiss? Yeah, hardly a world-ending act of timeless romance. Let your characters miss, clack teeth, elbow each other in the ribs, and not know how to take off a bra. It’s not only genuine; it’s adorable.

Hold back on the HEA.
Many real-life lifelong romances blossom in high school, which is fantastic, adorable, and enviable! But let’s be real: most teen couples are not destined to be together forever and ever. And that’s okay! That doesn’t make the relationship any less powerful—in fact, it increases the intensity because the experience will end up being so formative for the characters. Don’t feel that you need to tack on some hint (or explicit epilogue—looking at you, JKR) that the characters all end up coupled forever until the end of time. Unlike adult romance, where a happily-ever-after is de rigueur, it’s okay to end a YA romance on a note of “happy for now,” or even of total uncertainty.

 

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11 Words Every Fantasy Language Needs

Inventing languages is a crucial—and fun—part of fantasy novel worldbuilding. Words unique to a country, region, people, or race give the world texture and depth that can’t come from ordinary words alone. But inventing a solid, believable, and rich fantasy language is about more than just throwing together weird-sounding combinations of words; when done properly, the language is creates conflict, reveals character, and even provides crucial solutions to the plote (can you say “Speak friend and enter”?)

Here are eleven words your fantasy language has to have.

Swear words
Swear words, curses, and oaths represent the immediate, impulsive instincts of your character, and so they often reveal lots about the psychology of the people who speak your language. Are the swear words religious in nature? Scatalogical? Do they reference societal taboos?

Insults
Similarly, insults are a necessary part of every language, and an excellent opportunity to weave in information about the societal mores of your speakers. What is the gravest insult a person could be called in your language?

Terms of Endearment
Ah, love. The flip side of insults are pet names and sweet nothings that people in your language’s society call each other. What do they value and prize? Consider how in English, we have not only a lot of sugar-related words (“honey,” “sweetie,” “sugar”) but value-related words (“dear” can also mean “expensive”—compare “mon cher” in French). In French, however, a parent or lover might refer to “mon petit chou”—my little cabbage! You can also creative diminutives—versions of words that imply smallness or youth (like “kitten” for “cat,” for example). Be creative and think about your society’s nearest and dearest things when crafting.

Honorifics
People who outrank your characters will need some term of address that conveys deference and honor—think “your Majesty” or the Japanese suffix “-san.” How will characters of lower rank speak to those of higher rank? Do the words have any literal meaning?

Greetings
How many levels of “hello” and “goodbye” does your language have? What do the words literally mean? Many languages use “peace” as a greeting (or valediction). Some are imperatives (like the Latin “ave”). Some are more extended, idiomatic phrases.

“Untranslatable” words
Language is a reflection of mindset, and your characters are from an unfamiliar society that you’re building. What concepts does their culture have that don’t translate neatly into English (or the primary language of your text)? Consider words like “tsundoku” (the act of letting reading materials pile up) in Japanese, or “saudade” (a feeling of longing or nostalgia) in Portuguese.

Kennings
A kenning is a term from Old English poetry that refers to a word construction out of two smaller words, whose meanings, when combined, take on a new, non-literal significance. For example, in modern English, a “passport” lets you pass through a port, i.e. a metaphorical door to another place. Combining two words of your language to create a new, deeper, or more abstract word adds depth.

Demonyms
Demonyms refer to the name for a person from a particular place—e.g. a Floridian, a Canadian, a Parisian, a Brit, a Scot. How do the names of cities, countries, and regions translate into demonyms? Don’t merely employ the form that we use in English; consider adding a prefix to modify your place names.

Foods
Of course, specific dishes need names, but also consider the differences between food in the field and food on a plate: in English, we have “pigs” in the barnyard, but “pork” on the dinner table. The reason for this difference is the Norman invasion in 1066 CE, when French-speaking invaders took over the nobility and referred to their cooked dishes by Norman French terms. The Anglo-Saxons in the farms, however, retained their native words. Consider how such a divide could reflect social stratification—or something else significant—in your fantasy world.

Poetry/Literature
All literate societies have common texts that speakers know of, if not know by heart. (For example, almost every English speaker will recognize “To be, or not to be.”) What phrases do your speakers know from their society’s written corpus, and what significance do they hold?

Sacred words
Similarly, any religious society (or a society with a strong moral code) will have prayers, blessings, and benedictions. What formulaic language do your characters use to ask for divine assistance?

 


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