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View Full Version : Is it possible to 'under describe' your MC?



Indus
04-07-2009, 07:19 PM
It hit me today, that I really don't describe my MC until chpt 4 of my WIP, and even then it's nothing more than mentioning a hair color/eye color for the most part. As I was writing, it just never came up, if that makes sense. Not to mention my MC's personality is one where she doesn't really focus on any physical aspects...could this be a bad thing? Would a reader feel unconnected if they didn't have a distinct image of the MC in their head by a few pages in?

Phantom Writer
04-07-2009, 07:24 PM
Indus- love your tag line. I have the same problem- I don't want to write until I'm ready to drift off the dreamland... that drives me INSANE.

If your writing in first person- then I don't think it's unusual to not get all the description in one shot. I interlaced my characters physical into the text through talking with others and so forth... i think i say she has brown hair in the first chapter- but other than that- you get the rest in pieces... =*)

Danthia
04-07-2009, 07:33 PM
Up to you. Some writers never describe them. In the Travis McGee novels, what he looks like is never mentioned in the entire series. I do pretty minimal description, and mostly because my beta readers ask for it. I think it's more important for readers to understand and connect to your protag than know what they look like.

I wouldn't do it only because you feel you have to. Do what feels right to you and adjust later if needed.

Perle_Rare
04-07-2009, 07:53 PM
You do not need to describe your MC at all though most people do throw in the odd characteristic. If the story is compelling and the character interesting, the reader gladly fills in the blanks.

Now, what worries me is that you say you start describing the MC in chapter 4. For me, that would be reason enough to stop right there and close the book. Until chapter 4, I've invested my time and trusted you, the author, to tell me what's important and I've let my imagination liberally fill in the rest. So I might have imagined your MC as an asian-style beauty with dark almond-shaped eyes and lustrous black hair. The moment you throw in that she's a carrot-haired, green-eyed Irish lass with freckles, my internal image will be broken and I won't trust you again.

So if you plan on describing your characters at all, make sure you don't leave it to the reader to make the wrong assumption in the first place.

Just my 2 cents' worth...

Claudia Gray
04-07-2009, 08:42 PM
It depends on your writing style. I can say, though, that I heaped the description on with a trowel in my first book, and people still wrote in wanting to know more about how they looked.

Fade
04-07-2009, 08:45 PM
Would a reader feel unconnected if they didn't have a distinct image of the MC in their head by a few pages in?

I hope not. I'm about 20 pages in, and the closest my MC gets to physical description of himself is saying that someone looks like his fraternal twin sister. So... I'm in trouble if I needed description. :) I just don't think (since this is first person) he'd say "I have hair that is this color and eyes this color..."

Authors have not told me how the MC looks before, and it hasn't made me feel unconnected, to try to answer your question.

Indus
04-07-2009, 08:48 PM
Now, what worries me is that you say you start describing the MC in chapter 4. For me, that would be reason enough to stop right there and close the book. Until chapter 4, I've invested my time and trusted you, the author, to tell me what's important and I've let my imagination liberally fill in the rest. So I might have imagined your MC as an asian-style beauty with dark almond-shaped eyes and lustrous black hair. The moment you throw in that she's a carrot-haired, green-eyed Irish lass with freckles, my internal image will be broken and I won't trust you again.

So if you plan on describing your characters at all, make sure you don't leave it to the reader to make the wrong assumption in the first place.

Just my 2 cents' worth...

That's a good point. I hadn't thought of it that way before. To be quite honest, I don't think I would have even said her hair/eye color if it weren't for the fact at that point in the story it seemed necessary. But now I might try to work it in a little sooner.
Thanks to everyone's suggestions!

Fuchsia Flower
04-08-2009, 12:55 AM
I don't like to be told too much about a characters physical appearance (unless it really is necessary to the plot). I'm much more interested in their personality and thoughts.

I agree with perle that it isn't the best idea to bring the features in so late, lest they clash with the image in the readers head.

Stunted
04-08-2009, 01:35 AM
I am very very sensitive to people putting in random character description. I don't care about what your character looks like and, frankly, I think more people are likely to put your book down because it's poorly written than because they don't know what your character looks like.

I don't mean to be harsh. This is just pet peeve of mine.

If it's from the perspective of someone who doesn't care what the person looks like--someone who's not super-physically or visually minded, or someone who knows the character well (especially if they are the character)--then their randomly observing this character's blue eyes and sparkling blonde hair is out of character! If the character is a photographer or something or if it's from third omniscient, then you could maybe get away with it.

MissKris
04-08-2009, 01:57 AM
As a writer I tend to have a very good picture of what my MCs look like - to the point where I will look for a picture of someone that looks like them and paste it into my character files. But that doesn't mean I'm going to describe them one lick for the reader. Details like that happen organically in my novels. One example would be friends shopping for a dress and the MC picks out only jewel tones because it would complement MCs pale skin - or some such.

I hate getting the "bio" rundown right off the bat. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, muscle tone, etc. If your character spends most of their time in the gym, I'll get that they're toned - and I'll probably have a good idea of their hair style, too! Same as if they spend all day in mom's basement playing Fate. :)

I remember reading a thread on here (but I don't know which one is was - I think it was related to the Twilight threads) where someone said that they read a male character that was not once described but was obviously good-looking and confident just because of the manner in which he acted and others acted towards him.

Indus
04-08-2009, 02:20 AM
I am very very sensitive to people putting in random character description. I don't care about what your character looks like and, frankly, I think more people are likely to put your book down because it's poorly written than because they don't know what your character looks like.

I agree. Which is why I never described what my MC (or most of the character's) looked like. But I've never written a YA and after reading some SYW posts, I wanted to see if that was something that this audience cared about. The problem is when my MC's hair/eye color is disclosed in chapter 4, it's tied into the story line. It's fantasy and her image is altered at this point.
Perle brought up that waiting that long could be bad. The reader might already have an image in their head and if I destroy that, they could lose their 'trust'. So would it not be better to have the description (which is still vague at best. I assure you none of my characters have 'sparkly' hair) earlier in the story?

WKolodzieski
04-08-2009, 04:00 AM
Indus,
There was a similar thread on this in the novel section earlier, if you wanted to give that a read to see what even more people thought on the topic. Personally I never gave much character descriptions, but in my current novel I go into much depth describing physical attributes as well as clothing, accessories, and so on - however, it is detrimental to me telling the story. As for not giving any description until Ch. 4 and then possibly losing a readers trust, I'll say this: I've read a good deal of books where the character/s weren't described and thus I envisioned it myself, and if the author decided to throw in descriptions later which would change my view of said character, I personally wouldn't let that bother me as a reader.

Just do what you think is best for telling your story, and if you think it might be a safer bet to throw in description earlier on, then go for it. I'm sure you'll figure it out, and good luck w/ your project.

-Wally

xoChickieGirlox
04-08-2009, 04:27 AM
I usually describe my characters as soon as they are introduced. However, I don't do the height, weight, body shape, childhood back-story. I usually give hair colour and eye colour so that people know how to begin imagining my character and just in case I say something about them later, I don't destroy their picture of them.

MelodyO
04-08-2009, 04:50 AM
I wonder this, too. FWIW, I have a different character think or mention physical aspects of the character I'm trying to describe rather than my character talking about their own hair colour or whatever. And I always try to give a lot of oomph to the small bit of description I put in. In other words, instead of saying a character has a long nose, I have another character ask him if he stole a carrot from a snowman. Or whatever! :D

Perle_Rare
04-08-2009, 05:50 AM
As for not giving any description until Ch. 4 and then possibly losing a readers trust, I'll say this: I've read a good deal of books where the character/s weren't described and thus I envisioned it myself, and if the author decided to throw in descriptions later which would change my view of said character, I personally wouldn't let that bother me as a reader.

WKolodzieski:

Do you consider those to be good books? If so, then I would assume the authors did something really amazing in other aspects of the book to make up for this minor aggravation. If not, then why use these books as a basis for imitation?

The OP did mention that the MC's looks have, by chapter 4, become important. We're no longer talking about just a character description that has no bearing on the plot.

I figure if you, the author, led me (or allowed me to wander) in the wrong direction where a minor plot element is concerned, what else, of potentially higher importance, have you omitted to tell me? Any book that causes me to pause in order to re-create my internal image does not qualify as a good book in my books. Yes, I might get to the end. Then again, I might not. Are those odds good enough for you?

Luckily for you, I'm neither an agent nor a publisher so my opinion doesn't particularly matter.

Another 2 cents' worth.

YAwriter72
04-08-2009, 03:51 PM
As a writer I tend to have a very good picture of what my MCs look like - to the point where I will look for a picture of someone that looks like them and paste it into my character files. But that doesn't mean I'm going to describe them one lick for the reader. Details like that happen organically in my novels. One example would be friends shopping for a dress and the MC picks out only jewel tones because it would complement MCs pale skin - or some such.

I hate getting the "bio" rundown right off the bat. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, muscle tone, etc. If your character spends most of their time in the gym, I'll get that they're toned - and I'll probably have a good idea of their hair style, too! Same as if they spend all day in mom's basement playing Fate. :)

I remember reading a thread on here (but I don't know which one is was - I think it was related to the Twilight threads) where someone said that they read a male character that was not once described but was obviously good-looking and confident just because of the manner in which he acted and others acted towards him.

I love that. Attitude gives my characters their look. I realized reading this thread that I don't describe my MC at all. She is a junkie and wears hooded sweatshirts and won't look people in the eye and I have a very clear vision of her, but am excited that everyone will see her in their own mind. There is only one scene I think that mentions her eyes are blue, and its an important plot point, but aside from that, nuthin. (This is first person, so having her think, 'my blue eyes sparkled and my wavy blond hair ruffled in the breeze' would sound plain dumb!)

Perle_Rare
04-08-2009, 04:15 PM
I love that. Attitude gives my characters their look. I realized reading this thread that I don't describe my MC at all. She is a junkie and wears hooded sweatshirts and won't look people in the eye and I have a very clear vision of her, but am excited that everyone will see her in their own mind. There is only one scene I think that mentions her eyes are blue, and its an important plot point, but aside from that, nuthin. (This is first person, so having her think, 'my blue eyes sparkled and my wavy blond hair ruffled in the breeze' would sound plain dumb!)

I agree: You do not have to describe anything about your characters in the entire novel. I barely describe mine because their looks have no bearing on the story.

But here's two scenarios where looks matter:

1. I read the book and get to chapter 4 to find that something plot-dependent has to do with blue eyes and this is where you reveal to me that, coincidentally, your MC has blue eyes, something you haven't bothered to inform me of before. I lose faith. For all I know, I might get to the climax of the story to find out that the starving street urchin you've never described is really a 10th dan black belt in karate and he's capable of taking down a dozen fully-armed guards, thereby saving the princess. :Wha:

2. I read the book. Somewhere, early on, you casually mention blue eyes. I get to chapter 4 and find that something plot-related has to do with blue eyes. I nod, realize I should have seen it coming since you set it up earlier, smile, and continue reading. :)

Which one would you rather have?

Yet another 2 cents' worth...

Rebecca_Rogers
04-08-2009, 07:00 PM
I will say that I'm writing a series, which is written in first person. The MC isn't described until the third chapter...hair, eyes, clothing style, etc. I know when I read, I don't want so many details that something gets spelled out for me. Isn't that why we have an imagination?

MissKris
04-08-2009, 08:08 PM
I agree: You do not have to describe anything about your characters in the entire novel. I barely describe mine because their looks have no bearing on the story.

But here's two scenarios where looks matter:

1. I read the book and get to chapter 4 to find that something plot-dependent has to do with blue eyes and this is where you reveal to me that, coincidentally, your MC has blue eyes, something you haven't bothered to inform me of before. I lose faith. For all I know, I might get to the climax of the story to find out that the starving street urchin you've never described is really a 10th dan black belt in karate and he's capable of taking down a dozen fully-armed guards, thereby saving the princess. :Wha:

2. I read the book. Somewhere, early on, you casually mention blue eyes. I get to chapter 4 and find that something plot-related has to do with blue eyes. I nod, realize I should have seen it coming since you set it up earlier, smile, and continue reading. :)

Which one would you rather have?

Yet another 2 cents' worth...

If some kind a description of you MC is the gun in the room, so to speak, then, yes, you'll want to weave that important bit of information in early on. But instead of flat out telling the reader about the blue eyes, figure out a way to slip it in nonchalantly. We know she has blue eyes because . . . she's experimenting with her make-up and puts on dark red lipstick, then wipes it off with a sneer because between the lipstick, her too-pale skin and her eyes, she looks like a walking American flag.

If I may put forth MHO on one more thing . . . I worry the Color Of The Eyes Signifying Something Important plot point is getting a little tired. Sure, there are ways of doing it originally - and yours could be super great! But Harry Potter, Twilight, et al use the eye color device. This isn't a criticism AT ALL, just something to (hopefully) get you thinking.

Indus
04-08-2009, 08:37 PM
Hmmm...I don't think I described the situation properly. The eye color is not the basis of the plot. In Chpt 4 the MC's appearance is altered so she won't be recognized. All humans (fantasy WIP :) ) would see her differently. Anytime she is on the Earth Realm she would be in this 'disguise' so her hair/eye color would look different to humans. Now, the other more prominent characters in the story still see her normal appearance. That's what I meant when I said it 'tied into the storyline'. Now, I have no plans on a character staring at my MC and saying 'your eyes are sparkling blue!' lol BUT It's still a WIP and I'm not sure how long the whole story will be. It could be more than one book. I just worry that if something dealing with her appearance (getting caught out of disguise or something) happens, and I haven't established a general description previously, it could be a mistake.
Does this make sense?

YAwriter72
04-08-2009, 09:01 PM
I agree: You do not have to describe anything about your characters in the entire novel. I barely describe mine because their looks have no bearing on the story.

But here's two scenarios where looks matter:

1. I read the book and get to chapter 4 to find that something plot-dependent has to do with blue eyes and this is where you reveal to me that, coincidentally, your MC has blue eyes, something you haven't bothered to inform me of before. I lose faith. For all I know, I might get to the climax of the story to find out that the starving street urchin you've never described is really a 10th dan black belt in karate and he's capable of taking down a dozen fully-armed guards, thereby saving the princess. :Wha:

2. I read the book. Somewhere, early on, you casually mention blue eyes. I get to chapter 4 and find that something plot-related has to do with blue eyes. I nod, realize I should have seen it coming since you set it up earlier, smile, and continue reading. :)

Which one would you rather have?

Yet another 2 cents' worth...

I LOL'd. That first one is hilarious. It's more number 2 for mine. The blue eye thing is only important because it makes her realize she can't deny that she looks like something else. If your eyes were completely blue (no white, no black) seeing someone else like that would make you go hmmmm.

Perle_Rare
04-08-2009, 09:26 PM
I LOL'd. That first one is hilarious. It's more number 2 for mine. The blue eye thing is only important because it makes her realize she can't deny that she looks like something else. If your eyes were completely blue (no white, no black) seeing someone else like that would make you go hmmmm.

Good! :)

WKolodzieski
04-08-2009, 09:47 PM
I figure if you, the author, led me (or allowed me to wander) in the wrong direction where a minor plot element is concerned, what else, of potentially higher importance, have you omitted to tell me? Any book that causes me to paude in order to re-create my internal image does not qualify as a good book in my books. Yes, I might get to the end. Then again, I might not. Are those odds good enough for you?

Pearle,
I understand what you're saying here and I think I have to agree with you. I was just saying personally as a reader I don't let minor things affect me so long as it doesn't interfere with the plot. Of course I haven't read the work in question so I don't know exactly if it's a problem or not. When writing my manuscript, however, I'd make sure I had every loose end tied up; even though the small things don't bother me as a reader. Best wishes.

anne_marie
04-08-2009, 10:21 PM
I have written six novels where the main characters are never described in detail at all. IN fact one of my friends said that the way I write, I flesh out the character but what the character looks like it upto the reader.