Andrea and I were having a conversation about books the other day and the subject came up about how frustrating it is when a writer suddenly introduces a very specific physical characteristic of the main character, right at the end of the story. We agreed that it was just not fair to ignore what the character looks like until well after the reader has already imagined their own idea of what they look like.
For example, when the heroine of the story is standing on the hill with her new husband watching the sunset and it suddenly describes the wind blowing through her knee-length red hair that she never bothers to comb, the tangles of which are full of birds and families of small rodents. This feels like something they should have mentioned earlier. It seems like something that may have been important to the story, even. But no. We will just mention it in passing here in the final sentences.
Or when the young hero tells his friend he should join the tennis team and his friend says, “You know I can’t do that. I was born with arms like a T-Rex.” and I have to toss the book in the air in frustration. You never thought to mention the fact that the neighbor boy had 8-inch long arms? Ridiculous. Also, why is the boy with dinosaur arms not the main character of the story? Why am I reading a book about a boy with normal arms and David the FREAK is just a side character that lives next door?
I mean, writers love to do this sort of thing. You can read the entire way through the bible (That’s somewhere around 1,200 pages, easy) and it never tells you what Jesus looks like, and then almost in the very last chapter, on something like page 1,185 it’s like, “You yeah, and by the way. The hero’s eyes were on fire and he had a sword coming out of his mouth the whole time.” This is unfair. Now I have to read the whole thing again!
Anyway, we were having this conversation, and the kids were listening to our discussion, but Gideon seemed to not understand. He was clearly intrigued by this idea of writers transforming imaginary people into different imaginary people using the magic of words, but it was very hard for him to comprehend. This is mainly because he still lives in a world where all books have pictures. The man in the yellow hat wears a yellow hat whether the book tells us so or not, right? So, he was confused.
His sister Lydia jumped in to help explain it to him. “Okay, it’s like,” Lydia thought for a moment. “Well, it’s like when you get to the end of an audiobook and the guy comes on and says,” and she made her voice sound very much like the guy at the end of an audiobook, “We hope you have enjoyed this unabridged recording of The Girl Who Didn’t Have a Nose. The whole time. She didn’t ever have a nose.” and then she made hand motions like her head was exploding. “Like, WHaaaaaat? She didn’t have a nose?!”
Gideon laughed and seemed to understand this example. “Okay, I get it,” he said. I was a bit taken aback by the explanation and nodded down at the little girl and smiled. Of course. Audiobooks. That’s Gideon’s reference for a book without pictures. I was glad I had Lydia here to bridge the gap and help explain difficult concepts to this younger generation.
She smiled back and bowed gracefully as she moved across the room to the couch and then her eight tentacle legs coiled into a soft nest of rubbery purple tubes beneath her and she winked.