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JB_Finesse
01-31-2007, 07:16 AM
All right, I just have no idea how I should go about this.

I mean, it's not like as soon as you introduce them you can go immediately into an in-depth description of them.


"Hi," said Tom.

Tom was 29 years old, 5'1 and weighted 290 pounds. He wore pink cutoff jeans, flipflops and a long yellow rain coat. One half of his spiky hair was dyed lime green, the other orange. His favorite song was Video Killed the Radio Star and he ate absinthe-soaked Twinkies at every meal.

Nobody wants to read that. I realize you have to add these things in over time, but exactly how should I do it?

veinglory
01-31-2007, 07:28 AM
When I look up and see someone for the first time there is generally a snap impression that doesn't need to list all of their their demographics let alone age and eye color which I generally have only the roughest estimate of. I do laugh at the paragraph long descriptions that turn up sometimes right down to every piece of clothing...

Assuming you write using a character's point of view most of the time, you migth like to try watching people go by and summing them up in a sentence--the general impression. You know, he look's like Justin Timberlake would if he got fat... and short. Cute girl, doesn't she get cold dressing like that? If the everyman had a grandmother she'd look like that etc.

If you give a first impression, details can come in later.

maestrowork
01-31-2007, 07:30 AM
You don't have to describe the character the minute it walks on the page. But some kind of descriptions, at least, and a fuller picture in the near future if necessary -- there are details about the character that we (the readers) don't need to know:

Sara waved to Jill and pointed at a young man, who must weigh about 300 pounds. He was even shorter than Jill, who was only 5'3" to begin with, without heels.

"Jill, meet Tom," Sara said.

"Hi," Tom said, extending his hand to Jill.

Jill tried hard to suppress a snicker as she shook hands with Tom. For one thing, his pink cutoff jeans, flipflops and long yellow raincoat were straight out of a comic book. And there was his hair, which looked like someone had just poured lime and orange Kool-Aid on it.

.... (then later in the story)...

"So, what's your favorite song, Tom?" Jill asked, pretending interest.

"Video Killed the Radio Star, definitely," Tom said.


(well, you get the idea -- you're right, no one needs to know everything about a new character, especially if it's out of POV. Just give enough so that your readers can visualize, then later sprinkle in more information)

glassquill
01-31-2007, 07:55 AM
I've heard somewhere that describing characters using the mirror or reflection technique is a big no-no. To what extent is that advice valid?

veinglory
01-31-2007, 08:03 AM
It is a bit of a cliche. But if chapter one happens in a hall of mirrors, go for it ;)

JB_Finesse
01-31-2007, 08:13 AM
Mirror or reflection technique?

ChaosTitan
01-31-2007, 08:14 AM
I've heard somewhere that describing characters using the mirror or reflection technique is a big no-no. To what extent is that advice valid?

If you use mirror-gazing, then make it relevant.

Don't have the character wake up in the morning (a worse no-no than mirrors), trudge into the bathroom, and start examining their reflection. Even though normal people do this, how often do you really note the shape of your face, the slope (or bump) of your nose, the exact length and color of your hair, or even the color of your eyes?

Give them a good reason to look at their reflection. Otherwise it can feel obtrusive to the narrative. That's when it becomes a no-no.

Serenity
01-31-2007, 08:26 AM
As a reader, I can tell you that if the first chapter has the Joe-Friday-just-the-facts-ma'am character description, it's going to make me roll my eyes and probably put the book down. Well, unless it's a Dragnet book, then I'd expect it, sort of.

Anyhow, character description can come in a variety of ways. In a co-written book, much of my character's physical description was actually described in a memory from another characters POV as he saw her unconscious. Her age came about in the same memory. Other descriptions come from remarks made over the first chapter or two that she is in, and are also from other characters. Because honestly, how often do we think of ourselves in descriptions? And unless we're in a Who's Line sketch or a Micky Spilane novel, how often do we meet someone and think to ourselves: "Wow, they're 5'10", about 180 pounds, green- no, hazel- eyes..." etc.

glassquill
01-31-2007, 08:34 AM
Thanks for the input,veinglory and chaostitan. Not that I have halls of mirrors or a character that has an obssession with his/her appearance. But it will be good to know when to avoid it.

JB, the reflection and mirror technique is when the character sees self in a mirror or any reflective surface and describes himself/herself based on the reflection. I'm not sure if it's actually called that but it's just a label that I stick on it. Maybe they have some proper term for that form of description that I'm not aware of.

Come to think of it, are there any other ways of describing a character that's best avoided? I know that those that read like the description of some criminal on the evening news aren't a good idea. Unless the character IS a criminal on the evening news, that is. :D

JB_Finesse
01-31-2007, 08:34 AM
Oh yeah. Stephen King likes to do that. I generally wouldn't. Plus, it'd only work with a single character, otherwise it'd just be stupid.

maestrowork
01-31-2007, 08:42 AM
I've heard somewhere that describing characters using the mirror or reflection technique is a big no-no. To what extent is that advice valid?

It's a no no because so many people do it poorly, unnaturally:

I looked into the mirror and saw my beautiful blonde hair and smooth complexion.

That prompts the readers to ask, "Why the heck is she telling me that?" Anything that stops the readers and takes her out of the story is an undesirable effect.

Now, it doesn't mean it can never been done. Many skillful writers have done it effectively. It should have a purpose, and the mirror and reflection must be relevant to the plot and not come off as "oh, and let me describe myself to you..." Make it as transparent as you can.

glassquill
01-31-2007, 08:46 AM
Or it could work for more than one character in a story where everyone is obssessed with mirrors and their own reflections. :tongue

maestrowork
01-31-2007, 08:48 AM
It won't work if it's a bunch of vampires.

Pagey's_Girl
01-31-2007, 04:54 PM
It's a no no because so many people do it poorly, unnaturally:

I looked into the mirror and saw my beautiful blonde hair and smooth complexion.

That prompts the readers to ask, "Why the heck is she telling me that?" Anything that stops the readers and takes her out of the story is an undesirable effect.

Now, it doesn't mean it can never been done. Many skillful writers have done it effectively. It should have a purpose, and the mirror and reflection must be relevant to the plot and not come off as "oh, and let me describe myself to you..." Make it as transparent as you can.

It works if it's just a quick-hit kind of description.

She glanced at her reflection in the store window and cringed a bit, frantically fluffing her long dark curls. "Why didn't you tell me I had the frizzies?"

"Because you don't," her friend replied. "Calm down, you look fine."

jodiodi
01-31-2007, 06:47 PM
I have a WIP where my mc notices her reflection in the rearview mirror as she's changing lanes and makes some inner note about her bloodshot eyes, straggly hair, etc.,.

In my other works, I write romance where description is maybe a little more expected but still needs to sound natural, not like the narrator or POV is describing contestants in the Miss USA pageant or something similar.

MidnightMuse
01-31-2007, 07:26 PM
Keep in mind, also, what the reader needs to know and what the reader doesn't need to know. Is the eye color of your character important to the story? Is the fact that he has a scar over his left wrist vital to know?

If the answers are Yes, then work them in. If not, then don't.

glassquill
01-31-2007, 08:00 PM
I've heard writers say that they want to put plenty of details in their work because they want the reader to see the character as clearly as they do (eg. the description of hair colour, the length, hair style, etc.).

Others take the view that they'll only give as much details as necessary for the reader to have a vague sort of idea as to what the character looks like and any other details are supplied by the reader's own imagination (eg. just the colour of the hair is mentioned).

Is one better than the other or is it just strictly personal preference on the part of the writer?

veinglory
01-31-2007, 08:08 PM
Partly it is genre. Partly it is taste. But what makes a character clear in my mind is not their exact height in feet and inches and exact shade of their twinkling sapphire eyes anyway. I couldn't tell you the exact height, weight and eye color even of my best friends so I don't care about it in characters either. Ditto the brand names of their clothing.

If I have to read another work in progress that itemizes a walk-on character's exact hair style and outfit (down to minor accesories and make-up) but omits even the basics of age, race, style, comportment and sometimes even gender, I may scream.

JIMBOS
01-31-2007, 08:24 PM
Thanks JB...I'm having the same problem. Should I describe them as they speak? Or all at once?Can anyone help?


FADE IN:
EXT. THE WOODS - DAY
A crudely built clubhouse. 'The Hideout’ is painted is over the door. Sounds of boys talking and laughing come from inside.

INT. THE HIDEOUT– DAY
Four pre-teen boys sit in a circle.

JB_Finesse
01-31-2007, 08:53 PM
Well, the good thing about scripts is that you're not selling them to people who just want to read them, therefore having to read the whole thing about hair color and clothing and stuff won't matter quite as much. I say you should get into the discriptions as they speak rather than put all 4 in right after "four pre-teen boys sit in a circle". In my opinion, that would sort clutter it up. I'm not too experienced with scripts though.

ChaosTitan
01-31-2007, 09:46 PM
Thanks JB...I'm having the same problem. Should I describe them as they speak? Or all at once?Can anyone help?


FADE IN:
EXT. THE WOODS - DAY
A crudely built clubhouse. 'The Hideout’ is painted is over the door. Sounds of boys talking and laughing come from inside.

INT. THE HIDEOUT– DAY
Four pre-teen boys sit in a circle.

In my scriptwriting experience, it's best to paint the picture with broad strokes, and do it as soon as possible.

Example:

INT. THE HIDEOUT - DAY

Four pre-teen boys sit in a circle. DANIEL, the biggest boy in the group, wears dirty clothes and picks at a weeping scab on his left knee. JOSH sits close to his big brother LUCAS. Both boys wear pressed khaki shorts, white shirts, new sneakers. ANDY, the leader in his favorite baseball jersey, holds the pocketknife.


You get a sense of each boy, and can then go forward with the dialogue and ensuing scene. Casting will take care of hair and eye color and other specifics.

JIMBOS
01-31-2007, 10:02 PM
Thanks chaostitan...this helps.

ChaosTitan
01-31-2007, 10:03 PM
Glad to help. :)

virtue_summer
01-31-2007, 10:35 PM
Be careful with overdoing the description. I, for one, hate it when an author insists on giving me a laundry list of every item the characters are wearing and what they look like. Weight, for instance, doesn't mean a lot for me. I've met people who weighed the same in pounds but were built completely differently. Basically, I say focus on the things you think are most important and the things that make the character stand out or that can be related in some way to their personality (here a few distinctive items of clothing might come in.) It's also best to have one character describe another rather than to have a character describe themselves (unless the character is terribly vain and thus does spend an overt amount of time thinking about her shining blond hair.)

Azure Skye
01-31-2007, 10:53 PM
I do very little character description. When I do do it, I usually somehow weave it into dialogue, or as an observation made by the mc. So far, I see no reason to tell the reader my mc had long dark hair or that her friend looks like a young Reese Whitherspoon with glasses.

Or, maybe I'm doing it wrong.

MyFirstMystery
01-31-2007, 11:20 PM
I'm exploring how to improve my description, and I'm doing it in a few ways - reading the descriptions of others and observing the world and trying to condense the observations down.

I too put down books when they start to go into the wardrobe department. At a certain point you wonder if the text was lifted directly off some cheesy dating site and written in the third person:

"Chuck was six three with a sturdy build, flashing blue eyes, and hair the color of cinnamon."

Spare me. Eyes that flash, twinkle, sparkle, look like ice, or are cornflower blue just give me the heeby-jeebies. I challenge myself to find any non-cliche eyeball descriptions period.

I'm actually fascinated about how authors describe their protagonist. I know one writer who is quite heavy (voluptuous?) who has written extensively on body-image and being positive at all sizes in non-fiction, but her protags all tend to be size three busty chicks. I'm not sure how to interpret that. Probably best not to.

Higgins
01-31-2007, 11:37 PM
I'm exploring how to improve my description, and I'm doing it in a few ways - reading the descriptions of others and observing the world and trying to condense the observations down.

I too put down books when they start to go into the wardrobe department. At a certain point you wonder if the text was lifted directly off some cheesy dating site and written in the third person:

"Chuck was six three with a sturdy build, flashing blue eyes, and hair the color of cinnamon."

Spare me. Eyes that flash, twinkle, sparkle, look like ice, or are cornflower blue just give me the heeby-jeebies. I challenge myself to find any non-cliche eyeball descriptions period.

I'm actually fascinated about how authors describe their protagonist. I know one writer who is quite heavy (voluptuous?) who has written extensively on body-image and being positive at all sizes in non-fiction, but her protags all tend to be size three busty chicks. I'm not sure how to interpret that. Probably best not to.

If characters have notable features of some sort: really big, transparent ears or a fat, spadel-ketail or scaley skin and a single, central chrome-plated eyeball, then I put that in...I don't do a laundry-list for each character as they wander around.