Thursday, 9 March 2017

Writing Lesson from 'Six of Crows': Character Descriptions

After a very productive morning during which I finally broke the back of a very pesky chapter that has been irking me for some time, I find myself with time to spare, and bring to you a post I have been waiting for weeks to write...

Writing Lessons from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. (No spoilers here. You may read this in all safety, then go buy the book.)

The discrepancy between this and the blog title lies in the simple fact that several lessons have been learnt reading Six of Crows, but for the sake of the well-established format of my blog posts i.e. "one book, one lesson" (nobody mention that this is only the third post), I have chosen to write about character descriptions.

In case you were wondering, the runner-up lessons were "How to Write Successful Flashbacks" and "How to Use Backstory to Advance the Plot". So, yeah. Maybe I'll come back to those one day, if I ever run out of books to blog about. (Unlikely.)

*clears throat*


For an action-packed heist, this book is all about character. Even the title refers to the six main characters, each of which are about as different from each other as half-a-dozen teenagers could be. The characters breathe life into this story, they drive the plot, they create the disasters, they get themselves into, and out of, their own holes. And considering there are five main POVs and two additional ones, I found myself relating quite easily to all of them.

The descriptions, all told from another character's third person point of view, are pulsating with life and layers.

Kaz, the leader of the gang, is a rough and tough youth, who leads the group with his own agenda and a great deal of flair. Most of the time. Here are my favourite descriptions of Kaz in the opening chapters.

"He was a collection of hard lines and tailored edges - sharp jaw, lean build, wool coat snug across his shoulders..."

"Kaz stood with both gloved hands resting on the carved crow's head of his cane. He looked totally at ease, his narrow face obscured by the brim of his hat... she'd come to understand that it was a joke he played on the upstanding merchers. He enjoyed looking like one of them."

"Inej knew the moment Kaz entered the Slat. His presence reverberated through the cramped rooms and crooked hallways as every thug, thief, dealer, conman, and steerer came a little more awake." This one is particularly genius, as it acts as a description of both an essential element of Kaz's character, and also of the setting of their home.

Inej is a soft-footed 'thief of secrets' who climbs walls, picks locks, and spies on everyone. The following descriptions of Inej were actually my favourite lines in the whole book. Beautifully written.

"Inej had a way of making you feel her silence. It tugged at your edges..."

"He'd heard other members of the gang say she moved like a cat, but he suspected cats would sit attentively at her feet to learn her methods..."

"He didn't see her go, only sensed her absence."

"No one else moved like that, as if the world were smoke and she was just passing through it."

Jesper is a twitchy, hyperactive guy with an addiction to gambling and a love for guns. He's my favourite character of all six. I think he's the one who seems the "simplest", but there's a lot more to him.

"With a great sigh, Jesper removed the gunbelts at his hips. She had to admit he looked less himself without them. The Zemeni sharpshooter was long-limbed, brown-skinned, constantly in motion..."

"He had yet to give up his rifle and the silhouette of it across his back made him resemble a gawky, long-limbed bird..."

"Whenever he got cranky he liked to lay his hands on a gun, like a child seeking the comfort of a favoured doll."

"Jesper always felt better when people were shooting at him. It wasn't that he liked the idea of dying... but if he was worrying about staying alive, he couldn't be thinking about anything else. That sound - the swift, shocking report of gunfire - called the scattered, irascible, permanently seeking part of his mind into focus like nothing else. It was better than being at the tables and waiting for the flop..." This is a genius interpretation of Jesper's ADHD, which is never stated outright, but is unquestionably present.

So, to summarise, Bardugo's characters are:
- well-developed
- unique
- described in original ways
- characterised by a small number of elements that are central to them and bring them alive.

On that note, I'd better get back to my WIP and practise.

Readers, which are your favourite characters in Six of Crows or other books, and why did they come alive for you?

Writers, how do you craft your writing to ensure that characters are well-rounded and well-described?


  1. I haven't read Six of Crows, but there are some great character descriptions here. I particularly like the more daring ones. For example, she moved " if the world were smoke and she was just passing through it." You read that and it sounds poetic and profound. Then you think more deeply about it and you're not sure it means anything at all. You think more, and realise of course it does. I call it "daring" because the final conclusion can be either "wow, that was profound, the author must be a genius", or "wow, that was nonsense, the author is trying way too hard." It takes a lot of skill to make sure the reader ends up at the desired conclusion.

    1. I completely agree. I think if I'd have written some of those sentences I would have cut them, not knowing whether they 'worked'. But in the wider context of this book, they certainly work!