QBCD by Donna (From the Archives)

Last Saturday, four of the five YAMuses (Bret Ballou was home with his brand new baby, Evan) spoke at the SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference. Thanks to our lovely hosts from the NoCentral chapter, we had a wonderful time. The presentation was packed with eager writers ready to apply our Revision Toolbox ideas to their writing, so this week we'll be featuring a "From the Archives" theme featuring our past posts on revision. Hope you enjoy!


It was scrawled all over my carefully typed narrative in big red letters. I had no idea what it meant. I was sitting in a writing class at Rice University with twenty other people including an emergency room doctor dying of AIDS, a mysterious CEO who arrived every night by a chauffeured limousine, and a Cuban refugee. All of us thought we were ready to write a novel. Our professor, American Book Award winning novelist Venkatesh Kulkarni, was about to prove us all wrong. He walked into class wearing a white suit and bright green socks, dramatically threw a stack of papers onto the floor, and then proclaimed in his accented English, “None of these would be publishable.” “But these,” he continued, wildly waving a small set of papers over his head, “we will read!”

When one of us was called to the podium to nervously read our manuscripts out loud, it was always accompanied by the loud scratches of his bright red pen as he marked huge “X”s over most pages and scribbled furiously on others. OBCD. It meant Quick Brief Character Description (QBCD) and it was one of the most important lessons learned from the years I studied with Professor Kulkarni. Every time a character entered a scene it was an opportunity to make him/her memorable to the reader. Not just the main character, but everyone—the checkout woman, the pilot, the teacher, the policeman—everyone. The past couple of weeks I’ve been traveling through many airports—Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas, Charleston—and the idea of QBCD is ever present. There’s no better place to brainstorm a list of great character descriptions that watching the people in an airport. So here’s a few of mine:

• Squat and thin-lipped and icy in her expression
• The one with the orangish hair and the strong mind
• Tall, with hazel eyes and a powerful voice
• Big silver hoops that shook from her ears as she talked
• With short, curly black hair that always looked wet
• A plain white t-shirt stretched tightly over his perfect triangle of a body
• Deep quotation mark lines on either side of his mouth made him look like a '
sad bull dog
• He had a fringe of naturally dark eyelashes that would make my mascara jealous
• A forehead that stretched well over the top of his head

Professor Kulkarni also taught that every novel needed at least twenty revisions. One of those revisions for me is to search through my pages for the opportunity for QBCDs. And that leads to another of the Professor’s favorite scribbled notations—MM. It stood for “Make it Memorable.”

So as I strive for memorable characters, I’ll keep jotting down QBCDs for future use in airports everywhere.


I love these Donna! I love how a few details can form a full person in my mind, and the details you chose to share already tell me something about each of them.

Me too, me too! Love QBCDs! They are very MM!

Twenty revisions? What does that even mean?

I took QBCD home with me in my notes and, it seems, a mini-Snickers bar that I was "saving for later". Thanks, Donna!

Here's a past post on twenty revisions:

This is such valuable advice! When I've got an idea and I start writing like a crazy person, getting caught up on minor character descriptions is really tough! I get too attached to certain ideas and then I get distracted from the story, and then there goes my steam! QBCD is something I'll definitely adapt into my writing.

Thanks for sharing, I always enjoy reading all the muses posts!

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