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Old 01-15-2013, 09:46 PM   #1
wazzujim
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Describing the Characters

I'm writing my first novel, of which the main character is a 14 year old girl. I've read just over a million novels, but can't seem to describe my character very well. Do any of you have a method to your descriptions, some sort of basic plan of attack?

Thanks for your help!

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Old 01-15-2013, 10:35 PM   #2
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It depends.

Sorry, I just happen to use that answer way too much.

No, really, it does depend. On what POV you're using to tell the story (1st vs 3rd. Limited vs Omniscient, etc), your style, the character, and so forth. Some people just have a predilection to using a lot of detail in their writing. Others not so much.

What I usually go with (and note, I write almost exclusively in a very close 3rd person limited), as my character aren't they type to sit around and think about what they look like, is sprinkle in details where they might become important. For example - my 5'10" character needs to hide in a little cubby hole. So naturally she's going to be thinking about the tight squeeze and how her knees are squashing her chest. Things like that.
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Old 01-15-2013, 10:38 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by wazzujim View Post
I'm writing my first novel, of which the main character is a 14 year old girl. I've read just over a million novels, but can't seem to describe my character very well. Do any of you have a method to your descriptions, some sort of basic plan of attack?

Thanks for your help!

Jim
Well it depends on your POV and the tone you're going for and what type of story you're writing. Some people explain down to tiniest details, others leave everything out but maybe hair color. Some use no description at all. Any method works, if well written. Go through some books that you think influence your style and see how and when they threw in character descriptions.

To avoid some cliches (the exception, for all of these, is if it fits the voice, imo)

Don't have her describe herself in a mirror
Don't editorialize on her appearance if you're writing first or close third (my beautiful, hairless, smooth, perfectly clear alabaster skin.)
Similarly, don't get male gazey unless the tone calls for it (you're writing from the POV of someone attracted to her)
Make the descriptions as early on as possible but still in line with the pacing of the story. If you wait too long, it'll be jarring for the reader because they'll probably already have an idea in their head and your description with almost certainly clash with that


And of course beta readers.
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Old 01-16-2013, 12:08 AM   #4
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I flicked my long blonde hair behind my back as I stared into my left green eye when I passed the mirror. My right blue eye winked at my large, DD cup breasts. My large breasts bounced when I walked, so much that even I wanted to squeeze the milkiness that emanated from them.

To my chagrin, my sock scooted down my perfectly tanned leg so I had to pull it up.



^Don't do that.
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Old 01-16-2013, 01:14 AM   #5
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Lol, too funny.
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Old 01-16-2013, 01:20 AM   #6
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I
To my chagrin, my sock scooted down my perfectly tanned leg so I had to pull it up.

^Don't do that.
AGREE.

I walk up to Joe. He's staring at my 42DD breasts, which are actually fake. I've stuffed a whole box of cotton into my grandma's bra. I'm kind of flat, almost as flat as Lance Armstrong. But it's okay. I'm short, only 5'2" tall and weight only 99+45+13 pounds. Large boobs would make me look like walking watermelons--which would match my eye color, if I hadn't put on pink contacts.

Joe's still staring at me. "OMFG," he coos admirably. "I love your strawberry blonde hair with green highlights that cascades down to your ass. You're so hawt. Will you marry me?"
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Old 01-16-2013, 05:02 AM   #7
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Yeah I admit I don't do much description-wise because I write mostly third-person limited and really how often do you think about your hair or eyes? I mean, I'd notice if it was a mess or something but other than that how often do you spend time thinking something like "I have brown hair?"

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Old 01-16-2013, 05:50 AM   #8
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Sprinkling it in is good advice and what I usually do.

I guess. I don't ever think about it, I just do it. I'm in my character's head and I just say her hair is whatever color because that's what color it is and I want the reader to know. It's just like, "she pulls a brush through her tangled red waves." End of description, move on with the rest of the plot.

I get a lot of compliments on my description. Which I always find funny because doing too little of it was one of my biggest problems 10 years ago. I write in close third, but not all the way. I pull back into omniscient whenever I need the air. Maybe that's why I find it so easy now. Or maybe it's all the practice I did years ago, writing exercises and such, when I was trying to improve my skills.
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Old 01-16-2013, 05:58 AM   #9
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I flicked my long blonde hair behind my back as I stared into my left green eye when I passed the mirror. My right blue eye winked at my large, DD cup breasts. My large breasts bounced when I walked, so much that even I wanted to squeeze the milkiness that emanated from them.

To my chagrin, my sock scooted down my perfectly tanned leg so I had to pull it up.



^Don't do that.
BWHAHAHAHAHAHA OMGGGGGGGGGG *dies*
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:00 AM   #10
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AGREE.

I walk up to Joe. He's staring at my 42DD breasts, which are actually fake. I've stuffed a whole box of cotton into my grandma's bra. I'm kind of flat, almost as flat as Lance Armstrong. But it's okay. I'm short, only 5'2" tall and weight only 99+45+13 pounds. Large boobs would make me look like walking watermelons--which would match my eye color, if I hadn't put on pink contacts.

Joe's still staring at me. "OMFG," he coos admirably. "I love your strawberry blonde hair with green highlights that cascades down to your ass. You're so hawt. Will you marry me?"
Okay. I have tears in my eyes. You guys are effing killing me. I can't even...
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:45 AM   #11
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It also depends largely on the activites of said character. It might not come up if they are watching a movie. But it might come up in another context.

For example: "A student was twirling her blond hair with her fingers, when her teacher slammed her ruler on the chalkboard, and says: 'Pay attention, you need this for your quiz next week.'"

I have trouble with this as well, revealing appearance over time. In other words, something like appearance can be sprinkled throughout the text. But then your style may be different.
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:19 AM   #12
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There are a few creative "cheats" you can utilize... like comparing them to a someone else ("Missy's flawless curls make my hair look even lanker than it usually does when I stand next to her") or extrapolating from a relative ("My father's eyes are dark brown, like mine"). Other characters can make comments, but be careful not to get too gushy. Think more "The cream in this dress brings out your coloring nicely" and less "Oh my god, you have the most perfect black hair!!!!111!1!!" Or they can describe her to someone else and she overhears ("Over there, the short one with the scar on her face").

You can also slip it in with the action, like "I trip over my own feet again. They've been too big for my body ever since I can remember." Or the old, "Everyone here has the same look about them, and I'm no different."

Generally speaking, it's best to avoid the one big dump where you're like "this is exactly what my character looks like all in a single neat paragraph!"
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Old 01-16-2013, 09:58 AM   #13
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It helps me to think of someone I know, and can picture. Think how you'd describe them to someone who has never seen them.
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:53 AM   #14
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I got lucky. My MCs are siblings and look quite different, which is a major plot point. It's natural for her to compare her skin and hair to his. Bazinga.

Someone just recently remarked (in SYW, I think) that the author was describing the main character's mother in a way that came off as incestuous and creepy. Nobody talks about their momma like that! That advice stuck with me, because it was so easy to slip into describing my male MC as being terribly, unfairly good-looking with long waaa-vaay hair - from his sister`s perspective.

So don't do that either.
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Old 01-16-2013, 11:35 AM   #15
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I tend to be pretty sparse with the main character - hair colour, height, build. I like the reader to fill in the blanks. Plus, in my world she has bigger things to worry about than what she looks like.

Only go into finite detail if it's important to the story. If Mary is self-conscious about her long nose then describe it.

In my world half of the school are genetically modified supermodels and the rest are normal people. I used character descriptions to show that. Otherwise, don't get so bogged down with it because the reader will like to create their own image anyway.

Some of the tips above are good. Also use the way other characters react to each other - David might blush everytime he sees Mary because she's so pretty or Jane might snipe at Susan because she's jealous of her weight.
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Old 01-16-2013, 04:11 PM   #16
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All great advice, with some nicely-sprinkled comedy!
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Old 01-17-2013, 12:27 AM   #17
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I also want to add that I think mirrors are perfectly fine when they are related to the plot. For example, my current MC is going to pretend she is someone else, so she looks at her reflection and thinks about the changes she needs to make in order to carry out her plan. Like, her hair is long and straight, the dark auburn color is pretty close, so that's okay, but she will need to cut and curl it.
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Old 01-17-2013, 09:56 AM   #18
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All mirrors in first chapters should be smashed unless they play an active role in the plot.
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Old 01-17-2013, 08:04 PM   #19
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All mirrors in first chapters should be smashed unless they play an active role in the plot.
Mine does. ^_^ It's one the most important elements in my plot and needs to be introduced right away. Outside of that, I totally agree.
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Old 01-17-2013, 08:37 PM   #20
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Maybe get your story going first, which might give you a better picture of your MC.
At that point you'll have probably figured out the most important elements that you need to put in anyway.

As for how detailed you get, that's a matter of style so long as you don't dump a list onto the reader that goes on for paragraphs.
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Old 01-18-2013, 07:20 PM   #21
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Thats a good idea. I'll do a rough finish of all the actions taking place in the first chapter, then go back to the beginning and start sprinkling in the descriptions.
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Old 01-18-2013, 09:18 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Bing Zabriskie View Post
AGREE.

I walk up to Joe. He's staring at my 42DD breasts, which are actually fake. I've stuffed a whole box of cotton into my grandma's bra. I'm kind of flat, almost as flat as Lance Armstrong. But it's okay. I'm short, only 5'2" tall and weight only 99+45+13 pounds. Large boobs would make me look like walking watermelons--which would match my eye color, if I hadn't put on pink contacts.

Joe's still staring at me. "OMFG," he coos admirably. "I love your strawberry blonde hair with green highlights that cascades down to your ass. You're so hawt. Will you marry me?"
Okay, that's a bit much, but it actually seems to match your POV which is very much first person. He he he!

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Old 01-18-2013, 09:28 PM   #23
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Okay, if this thread hadn't already been created, I would have just added it.

As I review part 1 of my WIP, there's pretty much no description of my MC. I think I imply that he's not hideous, but that's about it. I don't even describe his hair color (although I certainly have that in my notes.) My other characters tend to get at least one notable characteristic (for example, a chipped tooth) but that's about it. My MC is a teenaged male and as such, I guess he's just not that into examining his or his friends' physical features.

But, I wonder if I need to give my audience a bit more. The discussions on this thread have been great, entertaining. But nearly every one mentions hair color, even those that advocate sparse description. Is hair color essential? Can you imagine a person without knowing their hair color? I'm not trying to be pedantic but I do sorta want to examine the concept of hair color and what it implies...

Cheers!
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Old 01-21-2013, 03:43 AM   #24
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Okay, if this thread hadn't already been created, I would have just added it.

As I review part 1 of my WIP, there's pretty much no description of my MC. I think I imply that he's not hideous, but that's about it. I don't even describe his hair color (although I certainly have that in my notes.) My other characters tend to get at least one notable characteristic (for example, a chipped tooth) but that's about it. My MC is a teenaged male and as such, I guess he's just not that into examining his or his friends' physical features.

But, I wonder if I need to give my audience a bit more. The discussions on this thread have been great, entertaining. But nearly every one mentions hair color, even those that advocate sparse description. Is hair color essential? Can you imagine a person without knowing their hair color? I'm not trying to be pedantic but I do sorta want to examine the concept of hair color and what it implies...

Cheers!
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Thats too funny. With all the good advice above, the only thing I attempted to describe in my first chapter was hair color! And I got that one wrong!!
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