I have recapped shortened versions of each description here:
Warren's description of Willie Stark, the country boy turned
"Fate comes walking through the door and it is five feet eleven
inches tall and heavyish in the chest and shortish in the leg and is wearing a seven-fifty seersucker suit which is too long in the pants so the cuffs crumple down over the high black shoes, which could do with a polishing, and a stiff high collar like a Sunday-school superintendent…..and a grey felt hat with the sweat stains showing through the band. It comes in just like that, and how are you to know? "
Warren's description of Sugar-Boy, Willie's loyal
"His name was O'Sheean, but they called him Sugar-Boy because he
ate sugar……He'd pop the cube over the barricade of his twisted black teeth, and then you'd see the thin little mystic Irish cheeks cave in as he sucked the sugar, so that he looked like an undernourished
Warren's description of Sadie Burke, Willie's assistant and
"She was plowing her white oxfords through the dust as though she meant business, and every time she took a stride it looked as though she were going to pop the skirt of her blue-striped seersucker suit, she was in such a rush……The light hit her on her slightly pocked-marked face, which was damp now with perspiration, and her chopped off black hair was wild and electric on her head, and her big, deep, powerful black eyes burned right out of her face into the sunlight."
That's how it should be done!
Now, that is how to write character descriptions! Aren't they amazing? Of course, it didn’t take me long to find out why we never read this book in high school. The social views of Robert Penn Warren's characters in the book were true to that time in the Deep South and unfortunately are not in any way acceptable today. However, I am not endorsing the way of life during the timeframe of the book; I am commending Robert Penn Warren's masterful character descriptions.
Why? Because they describe a unique combination of physical attributes and personal quirks that instantly make these characters believable. They are far from the police-line-up character descriptions I have been guilty of writing in the past.
It is as if you could walk into a room and walk up to each one of these characters and start a conversation. That is writing! This skill is what creating unforgettable characters is all about. We have to strive to create seemingly living, breathing people with believable quirks and traits. People you could walk up and talk to.
In future articles, we will study more superb character descriptions in
literature. Feel free to suggest any that come to your mind in the comments section. I'll be sure to cover them in a future article, as well.
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