Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guest Post: Characters I Can Cosplay by Augusta Li

Some writers prefer not to describe their characters too much. They give their readers a few details and let the reader's mind fill in the rest. I am apparently the opposite kind of writer, as I'm sure my editors can attest to. I delight in envisioning my characters down to every tiny detail, even things like the flecks of color in their eyes, the specifics of their jewelry, the features of their clothing, and their gestures. Small mannerisms can give great insights into character. I could probably go on and on for pages about the look of my characters, but luckily I have great editors who stop me from dragging my plot down or boring my readers to death.

I tend to write characters with a unique appearance. To be honest, it's just more fun. Growing up and marveling at the beauty of manga and anime, the tiny details of the characters' costumes and the particulars of their shiny strands of hair, I developed something of a respect for minutiae. I admit I'm fond of unnatural hair colors and often write characters with blue, green, or silver hair. This isn't to say the characters are effeminate or shallow. Some of them are a bit vain, but they're fantasy characters and have their eccentricities.

I can't lie. I like to write characters that will be fun to cosplay someday. My fondest dream as a creator is to become well known and liked enough that people will want to cosplay all my characters. Until that great moment comes, I can continue to dress up as them myself. It's just so much more fun to cosplay a ninja-mage in fancy leather armor with lots of buckles than a guy who works in a bank.

Appearance can say a lot about a character's personality. In my newest novella, The Brush Whistler's Song, one of my protagonists, Naja, is one of the last members of an ancient, magical race. His people valued art, beauty, and all kinds of earthly pleasures. To express this decadence, Naja wears his hair very long and decorated with beads, braids, gemstones and ribbons. He wears long, elaborate earrings and other jewelry. His clothes are gauzy, delicate, and very fancy. He's a character that, as soon as anyone sees him, obviously doesn't have to do any work and has plenty of time and wealth to spend on his appearance:
Arjin had tried to prepare himself for any number of horrors, but he hadn’t been anticipating what met his eyes: a human face, angular, with a strong, square chin, smooth forehead, high cheekbones, full, defined lips, and a straight, narrow nose. Only the Ansari’s slender, black horns, curving toward the back of his head, betrayed his hated heritage. He looked older than Arjin’s eighteen summers, but only just. Half a dozen earrings dangled from each of his ears, and the gems and delicate chains rattled softly when he canted his head.

“I see you’re not trained,” he said, as if he observed the weather.

“Trained?” Arjin echoed, confused. He was, in fact, trained in many things. The High Cleric had seen to it since he’d been a small boy, hiring any necessary experts. Arjin could cross a room in perfect silence, scale a castle wall, pick a complex lock, and steal from a man’s trouser pocket without detection. He knew how to set traps and make poisons. He was adept with a sword, a dagger, a staff, and a bow. He could also improvise when no weapon was available.

The Ansari swept his hair back, making the hundreds of beads and gold embellishments jingle. “They’ve outfitted you in a fair semblance to the old traditions of my people, but if they’d trained you in our ways you would have knelt at my feet when we reached this room.”

Had the clerics hid this from him, thinking Arjin might refuse his task if he knew what he had to subject himself to? They knew of, and often complained about, his fierce pride. He couldn't accept that they'd put him at risk by denying him information. His tutors had told him everything about his mark, and Arjin had memorized every detail.

Arjin stiffened. The clerics had told him to do whatever pleased the Ansari, but they couldn’t expect him to crouch on the floor like an animal, could they? They would have prepared him for it if it was expected. Arjin wondered if the Ansari lied in an attempt to see what Arjin would accept. He wouldn't accept this. He made no move to comply.

“How tiresome.” The Ansari sounded more apathetic than defeated. “I suppose we’ll get on with this.” He reached a long-fingered hand toward the first layer of Arjin’s veils, rubbed the shimmering cloth between his thumb and finger, and brushed it back over Arjin’s head. With each stratum of silk that fell away, Arjin saw the Ansari more clearly. Its skin was several shades lighter than Arjin’s summer bronze, and much smoother, lacking the fine lines around his eyes and at the edges of his lips. He had thick eyelashes but slender, black brows. Arjin knew he had to resist the temptation to see the Ansari as human. He couldn’t allow himself to sympathize with it for even a heartbeat. As the Ansari slowly undressed him, he focused on the differences: those graceful, ebony horns, large, scarlet irises, and the obscene amount of jewelry draping its forehead, neck, fingers and slender wrists. Arjin shuddered; no virtuous being possessed such a shade of eyes.
Tell me that wouldn't be a fun cosplay! It makes me want to get out my sewing machine and rifle through my collection of wigs and colored contacts.

As readers, how do you feel about character description? Do you like to know every detail about a character's appearance? Does it help you picture him as you read? Or do you prefer to let your imagination tailor the character to your fantasies? Let me know in the comments!

The Brush Whistler’s Song -- Now Available from Storm Moon Press for just $2.99!

Books by Eon and Gus:


  1. I enjoyed your excerpt very much and the character details that you gave in it. Especially for fantasy/paranormal/Science Fiction stories, I prefer to have a lot of details concerning the description of the characters and their world. It helps me to visualize the characters and aids in the unique world building that the author has created in the story.

    BTW, the book cover is very lush and fabulous, and imparts the status and wealth of Naja, but also his enjoyment of such bounty.


  2. I definitely think character descriptions work better in fantastical stories where there is more opportunity for variety (after all, there are only so many ways/times you can describe brown hair before the reader says "ENOUGH, I get it!"). I tend to avoid long descriptions in general, as my eyes tend to skip ahead to conversation, but if done right and kept interesting, character descriptions can be a living thing within the story. :)


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