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Old 01-16-2013, 05:02 AM   #1
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MC's first appearance

I was reading some of the crits of other people's work in SYW and one of the crits I noticed was in reference to describing the MC in the first scene. Since it's bad form to do the 'looking-in-the-mirror, pond, window, etc' for visual descrption, how do you go about describing your MC in chapter one, when the MC is the POV character?

In my first scenes, I don't describe my MC's appearance at all (I'm not big on lots of physical character description anyway) because my MC has always been my POV character for the first scene.

I know readers tend to form a visual of a character pretty quickly, so by waiting to describe my MC until a scene where another character has the POV, I risk changing my readers original visual of my MC.


I'm just wondering how you all handle this, especially when applied to close third person.

Thank in advance. I always enjoy reading how you all handle these things. Very insightful.
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Old 01-16-2013, 05:06 AM   #2
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Usually I don't, as I'm also not huge on description. I'll fit in really small details throughout the text, usually, but nothing concrete. I've got it a bit easier in my current WIP, because someone else is the POV character when the MC is introduced. The other main characters receive very little description.
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Old 01-16-2013, 05:36 AM   #3
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I just come out and say it. Sometimes I do things like, MC is looking at a relative and noting the similarities and differences between them. Another character can comment on how their hair looks extra frizzy that day. MC brushes grass out of his short brown hair. MC slaps a hat over her messy auburn curls. Whatever. I just come out and say it. Pull the bandaid off. I don't try to be creative. I think about how I look sometimes, how my legs look really short in capri pants and such. It's normal for people to do that from time to time.

I write in close 3rd, but I pull back into omniscient sometimes when I'm describing something. If I stay in close 3rd the entire novel it'll drive me crazy and the ending results will be awful.

In college, I got major grief for not describing my characters enough. To get more comfortable with it I would sit down somewhere with a notebook and watch people. Describe them, make up a little bio for them. It was a lot of fun.

Although, I do have my MC look in a mirror on my first page. Lol! Not to describe herself, she knows what she looks like, she's just looking in the mirror. I think it's hilarious because I wonder how many agents will stop reading just because I have her stand in front of a mirror.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:11 AM   #4
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The problem about not describing them early is that when you eventually do describe them, you're working against what the reader made up. It also limits characterization a bit.

Just point out some highlights. The little, striking features. You can either lodge them in a block, or lace them throughout the actions.

For character who don't have many striking features, you can kinda recess this. I had a character start out and she had hazel eyes, light brown hair and wearing blood splattered white overalls. That's all. But the other MC she meets has a bundle of striking features and I almost devote three pages on describing him later.

For all POVs, the reader is watching the character. So describe from a camera over the shoulder and from the character's knowledge. They know what they look like, so they can describe it.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:22 AM   #5
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Last mc was the narrator. I never described him physically. I pretty much let his actions and thoughts define him, although he does reveal he's 38 in Chapter Three, I think. But he doesn't just come right and say it* and that's a possible work-around. Have your characters reveal themselves in subtle ways, or in their actions, or in their interactions with others.

*He says he's been walking around for the last 38 years with his head up his ass.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:35 AM   #6
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I generally don't describe the POV character's appearance (not big on description--actually I have to work on that) in any chapter. I usually show attractiveness level by how other characters respond to the POV character, and that's about it.

If the appearance is important (for characterization or a plot point), then I'll work it into dialogue or thought. However, the best way I've found is to work it into action. In a fight, someone grabs the main character's hair and that character sees their own hair in the opponents's hands. He or she puts in colored contacts because the color of their eyes reminds them of a no-good relative. Generally, I don't notice my appearance unless there's a change: I get a hair cut, burn my skin, break a nose, etc--that goes for people in my life who I have known for a long time, too. So why would a character?
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:39 AM   #7
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As much as I hate using this as an example of anything done right, in the entire Twilight series, the only physical information ever given about the MC is brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin. There is nothing requiring you to give a very lengthy description of your MC. As Will said, though, if you don't want to give a detailed description early, you have to commit to it; if you try to give one later, it will be jarring for your reader.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:42 AM   #8
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You reveal bits and pieces through the MCs actions.

"He stood on tiptoe to see over the shoulders of the crowd."
"She pushes a curl of hair out of her eyes."
"The sofa creaked as he settled on one end."
"The sun was hot on her skin. Be sprouting a new crop of freckles by evening."

And so on. You can also reveal character appearance by the way other characters respond to your POV character.

"The shopkeeper flinched, hands fluttering nervous while his gaze mapped the rough scars on Jake's face."
"He had his arms around her, yanking her back from the edge of the cliff. Just as abrupt he let go, staring at Max, wide-eyed. 'You're not a boy at all.'"
"Maggie pushed her hood back onto her shoulders. 'Blimey.' The captain grinned. 'A ginger one to boot.'"

Etc.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:45 AM   #9
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I began one story where there is a group protesting the demolition of a heritage building and the MC is described through the POV of a journalist scanning the crowd looking for a good interview subject.

However with third person I usually just describe them when I introduce them otherwise or wiggle a couple of basic details in like relative height or hair colour - first person is more of a challenge for that I find.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:58 AM   #10
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Thanks everyone! This is very helpful. I'm in the process of polishing up scene one to put on SYW and I hadn't described the FMC at all. I'm not big on lots of description, but I like to highlight a few characteristics.
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Old 01-16-2013, 07:33 AM   #11
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Last mc was the narrator. I never described him physically. I pretty much let his actions and thoughts define him, although he does reveal he's 38 in Chapter Three, I think. But he doesn't just come right and say it* and that's a possible work-around. Have your characters reveal themselves in subtle ways, or in their actions, or in their interactions with others.

*He says he's been walking around for the last 38 years with his head up his ass.
Ditto

My MC says "we've both been 'round the sun 34 times but...".

I don't care for extensive physical description as a writer or as a reader.

I don't even know what my MC looks like.
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:21 AM   #12
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I generally add a few clues.

Sweat dampened his brown hair.

Her curly blond hair caught on the coat hooks by the door.

He ran a hand through his messy red hair.


Obviously, don't use these too much. They can get annoying and obvious. But if you have a place where you naturally refer to a character's hair or eyes, you might as well add the color.
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Old 01-16-2013, 01:14 PM   #13
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I tend to be light on the descriptions of my MCs, but when I do describe them, I try to slip it into the action.

For example, in my first book, the first chapter shows my MC jogging with her classmates. She's chubby, so I take that chance to mention her chubbiness as she lags behind. In another scene, she struggles to get her mouse-brown hair tucked neatly under her head mask.

In my current book, my MC is a street rat with rotting teeth. The book opens with him cheating at a card game. While he looks at his cards, I have him run his tongue along his teeth, feeling the spaces where a couple have fallen out. Then I have another character slapping a meaty hand on the MC's skinny shoulders, so now you know he has bad teeth and is skinneh.

Little stuff like that.
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Old 01-16-2013, 02:52 PM   #14
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Does she need describing?

Show how the POV character reacts to her.

Characteristics should become apparent as and when they are used and relevant.

Quote:
Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
Thanks everyone! This is very helpful. I'm in the process of polishing up scene one to put on SYW and I hadn't described the FMC at all. I'm not big on lots of description, but I like to highlight a few characteristics.
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Old 01-16-2013, 04:46 PM   #15
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I was reading some of the crits of other people's work in SYW and one of the crits I noticed was in reference to describing the MC in the first scene. Since it's bad form to do the 'looking-in-the-mirror, pond, window, etc' for visual descrption, how do you go about describing your MC in chapter one, when the MC is the POV character?

In my first scenes, I don't describe my MC's appearance at all (I'm not big on lots of physical character description anyway) because my MC has always been my POV character for the first scene.

I know readers tend to form a visual of a character pretty quickly, so by waiting to describe my MC until a scene where another character has the POV, I risk changing my readers original visual of my MC.


I'm just wondering how you all handle this, especially when applied to close third person.

Thank in advance. I always enjoy reading how you all handle these things. Very insightful.

I don't describe them.

that said, pick 5 of your favorite books, or ten, and read the first chapter. That should take maybe five hours, if that.....see how many describe, and in what detail
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Old 01-16-2013, 05:56 PM   #16
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If it's third person, just describe the character. No tricks are needed. Novel, after novel, after novel does exactly this. One of the reasons the mirror scene is frowned on is that it isn't necessary.

The narrator is not the POV character, except in first person. Just because something is told in a given POV does not mean that character is doing the telling. It just means the narrator is using that character's POV.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:21 PM   #17
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how do you go about describing your MC in chapter one, when the MC is the POV character?
You should be able to work in some clues over the first set of scenes, if not the very first one.

It can be done in a number of ways:

--Give the character some logical, credible reason to think about his or her appearance.

--Reveal clues through interaction with the environment. For instance, I have a character who sometimes has to duck going through doorways because she's tall in a society of short folk. I have another with very long hair and his braid brushed the ground when he was kneeling.

--Have another character make some reference in dialogue about the POV character's appearance (again, it must seem natural that the character would do this).
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:25 PM   #18
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I generally add a few clues.

Sweat dampened his brown hair.

Her curly blond hair caught on the coat hooks by the door.

He ran a hand through his messy red hair.
The only problem with those is that they're out of POV. A POV character would not be thinking about him or herself that way.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:27 PM   #19
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I don't describe my MC until quite a few chapters in, but I drop a clear reference to his gender in the first pages (as this confused some readers) and references to his age shortly after.

'Teenage', 'male' and (from the first person narrative) 'very English' seem to be enough of a visual.

...Or perhaps it's the massive, bloodied wings he gains in Chapter 1 that cover the visuals.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:29 PM   #20
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The narrator is not the POV character, except in first person. Just because something is told in a given POV does not mean that character is doing the telling. It just means the narrator is using that character's POV.
Only in omniscient is the narrator not the POV character.

In third-person limited (also called intimate or close third), all narration is understood to be only what the POV character would think, observe, feel, or have knowledge of.

If the writer uses something like--

"She flipped her long blonde hair out of the way"

--POV has been violated, unless it's omniscient. The POV camera was shifted to view the character from the outside, instead of from within her own mind.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:43 PM   #21
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--POV has been violated, unless it's omniscient. The POV camera was shifted to view the character from the outside, instead of from within her own mind.
Sorry, can you elaborate on this? I for one don't see the violation. You don't have to be outside of the character to "see" the hair flicked back, if it's in front of her eyes.

edit: unless it's the "long, blonde" bit you were referring to. I guess I get where you're coming from.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:58 PM   #22
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I sprinkle a few adjectives in here and there (not many) in the first chapter--just enough for the reader to get a small idea of the character's physical traits without going overboard with description.
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:21 PM   #23
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Share Your Work is password protected. Quoting lines from there in non-password protected forums (like Basic Writing Questions) has been frowned upon in the past.

I'd advise editing out that part of your post, and drop the user(s?) in question a PM asking for a bit more detail.
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:23 PM   #24
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Thanks Emaree. I deleted it.
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:25 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
This is the quote from the other thread I was referencing in SYW, which was a crit of someone elses work.

- You have all these character, that you never describe, that you never characterize; they turn out to be faceless, emotionless puppets in a white room that are talking.

When a character appears, describe them so the reader can picture them. Use the dialogue and actions to bring up their personalities.

-WillSauger


I didn't want to hijack that thread to ask for clarification, which is why I posted it here.

Anyway, I guess the consensus is don't describe unless necessary and if you do, make sure you fit it in naturally. Maybe I don't need to describe the FMC until I get to the scene in the LI's POV, and what he would notice about her the first time they meet.
Personally, I think describing characters is kind of like describing setting. And for that I tend to follow Gaimans (?) suggestion of describing what is different/unusual, not what is the same.

FREX: A chair is a chair. You don't need to tell us that it has four legs and a seat and is made of wood. You might need to tell us it's especially large or small or intricately carved. You would definitely want to tell us if it's covered in blood or it walks on its own.

With people it's the same way. We have a general idea of what a man or woman looks like so you don't need to tell us they have two arms and legs and two eyes, etc. You might need to tell us if they have brown eyes or blue or scarlet IF THAT'S something unusual from everyone around them. (I.E. In Pathfinder the Norseman is distinct from his adopted Native American family.) You would definitely want to mention if your character is missing a limb or an eye or is a dragon in a human society, etc.

Of course, all of this is irrelevant if you don't care how readers imagine your character. And with some stories, that's the case: there isn't any reason why one person might visualize a blonde with blue eyes and a different reader would think brunette with green eyes.

If the character's appearance is important, then try and work it in through action and other characters reaction.
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