Setting Descriptions: Keep in Character



Whether you write in intimate first person, which allows the reader to experience what the characters experience as if walking around in their skin, or a more distant person, where some omniscient someone tells the story, often from several POVs at once, keep in character.

Yes, even the omniscient storyteller has a character. It is portrayed through his voice: his manner of speech, the rhythm and complexity of his words, the things he chooses to tell and how he chooses to tell them.

Tom Clancy wrote in omniscient third. His storyteller has a military, no-nonsense, alpha-male voice, and it’s the same whether the character involved in the scene is a good guy or a bad guy. He doesn’t alter his voice for the scene’s POV character as one would for deep third person.

One of Clancy’s main characters through several of his books is Jack Ryan, portrayed by Harrison Ford in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.” What if, just for fun, Ryan’s wife had asked him to shop for a baby gift with her?

Ryan opened the glass door for his wife and followed her into a store delicately scented with baby powder. Everything around him seemed so tiny and fragile, he figured the best place for his hands was his pockets. He strolled behind his wife along aisles of bright blankets and bassinet covers, terrycloth bibs and baby dishes, pastel infant clothes and shoes no bigger than his thumb. Then he saw the cutest little West Point football jersey and made a beeline for it. What an adorable gift it would make!

Okay, that’s a little obvious, but you get my point. So let’s change that last part: “Then he saw a toddler-sized West Point football jersey and ambled toward it. Too many of his friends from West Point had died on foreign soil.”

That’s better, but while we’re staying in character, let’s allow the description to tell us a little more about him:

Ryan opened the glass door for his wife and followed her into a store that smelled soft, like his baby boy after his evening bath. Everything around him kept little Jack forefront in his mind, from the Sponge Bob baby blankets to the tiny shoes no bigger than his thumb. He saw a toddler-sized West Point football jersey and ambled toward it. Too many of his friends from West Point had died on foreign soil, but he’d still be proud if Jack Jr. chose to go to his Alma Mater.

My apologies to Mr. Clancy. According to what we learn about Jack Ryan Sr. in Clancy’s novels, he was married and had children, one of whom was a boy, but he never went to West Point–that’s my invention. But if you understand what I’m trying to illustrate, my butchery of Clancy’s work was worth it.



About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in write tips, Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Setting Descriptions: Keep in Character

  1. Very well illustrated, Linda! Now that you bring this up, I better understand its importance. POV is everything (emphasis on everything), that character sees. Their world is colored with his/her opinions and experiences. A hunter will view a forest scene far different than an ecologist or an artist and visa versa. Varying from that POV, even in description, will jar the reader out of that character’s world. Not what we are trying to achieve. Thank you!


  2. This is one of my favorite things about descriptions. Depending on the character, it can get really fun really fast.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nothing tosses me out of a story faster than poor POV. My personal bugaboo is people who write historical and use a modern voice for their POV characters. Really? The voice not only needs to fit the character – in my opinion – it needs to fit the era too.

    Liked by 1 person

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