Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One Sentence Snapshots

Some of the coolest descriptions of characters come from cop novels. 

As a fan of Dashiell Hammett, John Sandford, and Michael Conelley I marvel at how they describe both the personality and look of a character in one sentence snapshots. 

These guys don't use descriptions like: Eyes like crystalline glass...or raven hair that fell in a wave...bleh!

They are masters of the the snapshot describe a person, a scene, an idea.  This make all of the rest of their long prose paragraphs, melancholy musings, and clipped action all seem to tie together.

For example, in The Poet, Michael Connelly describes his dead brother's partner, a detective named Wexler, like this:

Wexler was built like a small bull, powerful but squat.

You get the image of a man squeezed into a detectives shirt and tie, the muscles and power, but no finesse.  All that from a few words.

Connelly also describes a scene, a macbre one, where a crime scene photo shows a man who'd shot himself in the head leaning back in the carseat.  Connelly doesn't get graphic or even detailed. He uses one sentence and its chilling:

Blood had worked its way like a thick necklace around his neck from the back and then down over the sweater.

No description of color, consistency, splatter, or gore...just a snapshot image. A powerful one.

My absolute favorite cop drama author, John Sandford who writes the Lucas Davenport "Prey" novels is wonderful at introducing characters. Lucas, a former street cop, has a lot of that wry suspicion that comes out when he assesses someone.

In Broken Prey, Sandford introduces a character like this:

He was short, big nosed, red haired, pugnacious, intense, never wrong, willing to bend any ethical rule, and three years out of journalism school.

This was a great introduction to the smarmy, conniving, character that Ruffe Ignace turns out to be.

I've tried to do this type of thing in my own writing for Purple Knot. When introducing a motorcycle gang member from the point of view of the main character, a chemist, I wrote this:

Crawley had the rat-faced scowl of someone who grew up around too little food and mean adults.

My hope is to convey more than what a simple description of his clothes and hair would allow.  

So here is my challenge for you today...use the comments to write in one of your own character introductions...I'd love to see how other writers work.  

Until next time...Go Write!

Photograph by IdeaListic.

Today I'm at JoAnn Carter's blog for an interview! I'd love it if you popped on over for a visit.  Having a wonderful time cruising the ether on my Purple Knot blog tour!

Thank you to all who have commented and encouraged me so far.


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Laura Marcella said...

Ooo, I like this idea of description in one sentence snaphots. I'm going to go try it right now!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I can think of a description in my current manuscript like that, but it's two sentences not one.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post! I never realized until now that one sentence snapshots can be so powerful.

Becky said...

Wow! I'm going to go try my hand at one sentence snapshots, wish me luck. :)

Monja de Clausura Orden de Predicadores said...

Raquel, no me funciona el traductor, seguro que nos dices cosas preciosas.
Si puedes pásate por mi blog, hay un vídeo recitando una poesía, espero que te guste mi voz
Te dejo mi ternura