It’s all about subtlety.
Let’s take Roger for instance. Roger is the brother of the main character of my novels. He’s only in a scene or two in the first two books in the series, but in book three, he’s a main character. There’s a couple of ways that I like to use subtle devices to give you a deeper picture of a character without coming out and having it said in dialog.
One is using the expressions. Roger is obsessed with maritime history. He lives in a seaside community and works in a lighthouse. Because of this, I like to have him use subtle maritime references in his daily talk. If he’s leaving somewhere and heading home, he’ll say something like “I think I’ll weigh anchor and shove off,” or “I think it’s time to set a course for home.” He’s a man who loves the sea, not only its history, but to be out on it as well. It’s only natural some of this terminology would invade his normal way of speaking, but it also adds dimension to his everyday language.
I do this not only in how they speak, but also in other subtle ways as well. The father of Sara (my main character) is a lawyer. Here’s a snippet from my fifth novel (Ooo, this one hasn’t been published yet, sneak peek alert!!!!) where he’s described by another character. “I dropped down into the empty seat across from him and watched as his expression darkened ever so slightly. He may have let me marry his daughter, but the jury was clearly still out on my final verdict.” Here I used legal terms to describe the father’s look. Again, it’s very subtle, but at the same time it gives you another dimension to the character.
I also use my characters surroundings, possessions, and physical descriptions to describe them. Take Daniel and Ben for example. Daniel and Ben are complete opposites, yet both in love with Sara. Yep, gotta have a lone triangle. What fun would it be without one? Daniel is a vampire, Ben is human (more or less). With Daniel, I describe his eyes as sky blue. To me, the sky is ethereal, part of this world, yet not part of it. It’s a little unobtainable. For Ben, I describe his eyes as chocolate brown. To be, chocolate is desire, its physical craving, it melts with heat. Ben is definitely a physical attraction for Sara, she really desires him. She love Daniel, but she also sees him as someone she may never be able to hold onto with an everlasting grasp.
I also describe these two men with their cars. Daniel drives a Ferrari Italia 451. It’s black, sleek, clean, crisp, the perfect speed machine and unobtainable my most budgets. Ben drives an old Ford Mustang convertible. It’s red with slightly chipped and faded paint, well-worn, but warm in inviting. Both these cars are also subtly describing the men who drive them.
Now back to Roger. Roger’s sanctuary in the middle of his chaos is his study. It’s a small room off the living room of their house in the seaside community of Stonington, CT. It has odd angles as it’s partially under the stairs leading up the second floor. I also describe it as having only one window, a round window over his desk. This is a subtle reference to a porthole.
The Blood that Binds, by Jennifer Geoghan: “A minute later I found Roger in his study, sitting at his desk with a book in his lap he’d obviously not been reading. I walked over to the far side of the small room and leaned against the wall of wooden bookshelves. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the room looked exactly like a ship captain’s quarters on an old sailing ship. It seemed very appropriate for Roger. On the wall above his desk hung a needlepoint sampler with No Man is Free Who is Not Master of Himself embroidered on it. Again, somehow it seemed appropriate. Putting the book down on his desk, he swiveled in his chair to face me.”
I’ve used this quote not long ago when telling of my fortune cookie inserts, but now I’m using to show you how I described Roger’s study as like a room on an old sailing ship. All subtle ways of describing the man through the room he feels most comfortable in.