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Describing Faces: How important?

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gwendy85

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ALL writers started out as readers. The same is true with me. As a kid, I loved to read anything scary (Goosebumps, etc) then went on to "Choose Your adventure/horror series", went through being a Sweet Valley Fan, maturing into VC Andrews, until I started for Daniel Steel (a short love affair for me) until I finally went on to read almost everything from Michael Chricton, JK Rowling (who hasn't heard of her?) Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Robert Ludlum (loved the Covert One series), James Clavell (King Rat a fave), Patricia Cornwell (loved PostMortem), Nora Roberts (Midnight Bayou's great!), Sandra Brown (Envy...wow!) and so on. So, I guess now, I have lots of inspirations.

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to realize that all writers have different writing styles, some, perhaps a little similar to others. I'm working on my own novel (as with most everyone here) and my genre's bordering on Historical Romance and Historical Drama: Romance, because there's one main couple in the book, whose relationship I'm concentrating on, and drama, because of everything that happens to them and to the people around them, as well as their war-torn society. ***a little out, but can anyone pinpoint which genre I'm really in? I'm concentrating both on the romance and the story.

Here's the main question. How important is describing the faces of your characters, especially those of the main protagonists? In romance novels, I saw that almost every little facial detail was described, sometimes, down to the color of the lashes. Other books simply describe the color of the eyes and the hair color. Body description is not a problem, as you can simply generalize their build and only *strip down* to the details in the steamy scenes.

So, how important is describing faces, esp. in my genre (which I'm still a little confused of by the way) ? Can anyone give me a little suggestion? Should I describe every facial detail or let the readers imagine for themselves? Would I be killing the romance if I didn't describe the characters' faces enough?

Thanks guys :D This thread has always been helpful to me, so I'll be waiting.
 

soloset

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I think the best thing to do is what feels right for the story (such a cop out, I know, but I think it's true).

Generally, I don't describe the character I'm in the head of except through other people's dialogue or reactions or otherwise indirectly. Describing the male lead? I might get a little moony. <g>

However, the other writer in my household has to describe everybody, prefers to read authors who do the same, and thinks I'm nuts for not doing it. And a majority of writers may agree with him, given the number of times I've seen "brushes a strand of whatever colored hair back from her face" lately.

I guess I tend to get a sense for the POV character as I'm reading and don't really picture him or her much at all. I'm in their head with them, if that makes any sense. The other characters, though, I like to see as much as possible.

Now, in a third person POV romance, I kind of like seeing the heroine's face too. Gives me a chance to be someone willowy and elegant or whatever for a change. :D

(As long as it's not a laundry list description, that is!)

Oh, and I'm not sure -- is "Historical Drama" a genre? If not, I'd say Historical Romance, but then, I'm pretty stubbornly pegging mine as a Mystery even though there's a fairly strong romance involved.
 

Doctor Shifty

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Wow, is that what I've been missing by not reading Mills & Boon? All those descriptions of eyelashes have passed me by. :)

I think you would do well to see what part the face descriptions play in their particular genre. What would be the result of bypassing the description?

Have a run through those authors you have listed. How many of them have detailed descriptions of faces in their books? I'm going to have a bit of a guess and say not many. Then again, if you are writing romance and the description thing is part of the genre, decide if you want to run with it or bust out of it.
 

PeeDee

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Like describing hair and clothes and facial expressions, alluding to the thing is always better than giving me a breakdown to the thing itself. You can give me relevant details, you can give me little clues, but ultimately the character should start in your mind and end in my mind. After all, unless its a comic book or a movie, or unless the character is specifically on the cover of the book, I'm going to build a very clear image of what s/he looks like in my mind, and there isn't much you can say that'll change that image, even if it's wrong.
 

gwendy85

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as far as I've read, Sandra Brown doesn't give too much of a description on her characters' faces (she has suspense romance thing going on w/ "Envy") but I was still able to somehow visualize the character.

Hope I'll acquire that skill soon...
 

Mike Coombes

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As with most description, I avoid it unless there's good reason not to. If a guy has a nose like an over-ripe yam, a scar shaped like Texas on his forehead and a beard that reaches his knees, it might be worth a mention, but otherwise I prefer to let the reader do some of the work and fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
 

TeddyG

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I cannot help you with you genre...but here is a trick? idea? that I picked up years and years ago..which may help you describe people...

I am a people watcher....it is something I am really not aware of as well...sometimes if I am sitting in a cafe or walking on the street and I see an interesting face or person I end up staring without realizing it...and it can cause for embarassing moments...

Go to a cafe...sit down...with a notebook pen or pencil...and watch the people areound you....pick out ONE person...male or female...and write in your notebook an EXACT description of what they are wearing, how tall, eyes, hair etc. Also their facial expressions....
You will be surprised at how many words in your first draft that will come out to be...
Do that a few times, and you will notice (I hope) that you are also giving imagined qualities and thoughts to the person. You will start wondering what it is they are thinking, what their problems are, what led them to the cafe etc.

Write it down and practice....soon you will be able to close your eyes and envision a person down to the color of their eyelashes and their thoughts etc. which may become your protag.

When do you use it? That depends on your story/novel. Some stories do not need definitive protag. body descrips. Others gain from it depends on how you put it out there as well... You can be up front with it, or weave it into the story...

By saying something mundane like "As she sat there looking out into the horizon, her profile seemed regal to me." That in and of itself will paint a picture for the reader. Some words like "regal" give a vision or a idea.

But try the cafe thing....watch people...you will be surprised at how much you learn....

(I would hate to be sued by the people I never met that I used as models to describe my protags in my published short stories! But be careful. Seriously. One time totally without even realizing it, I described to the tee an ex-gf of mine, who in the past few months she and I became friends again. She googled my name saw some of my stories on line, read them, and sent me an email telling me "It is kind of trip seeing myself in one of your short stories!" And you know what? she was 100% right. (Glad I cut out the erotic scene..:D)

I got away with it by saying that it was a great form of flattery! :D)

Good line if I do say so myself...but nevertheless true.
 

DamaNegra

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I never describe faces. I'm always disappointed when an author does so because I always imagine the characters a different way. Heck, I'm so stubborn I ignore the author's description and go on with my own. Not sure if it's a general practice, though, but I know I'm not alone.
 

DamaNegra

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TeddyG said:
Go to a cafe...sit down...with a notebook pen or pencil...and watch the people areound you....pick out ONE person...male or female...and write in your notebook an EXACT description of what they are wearing, how tall, eyes, hair etc. Also their facial expressions....
You will be surprised at how many words in your first draft that will come out to be...

Heh, last time I did that I didn't have neither a notebook nor a pencil and ended up etching the description on a disposable plate using a knife :D
 

KTC

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Like the Tedster, I too am a people watcher. I sit in cafes and steal faces all the time. I capture faces in my 'Character Sketchpad'. I do this both with words and sketches. And I borrow from it when I want to get a face of a character down.

I think about what I-the reader wants when deciding what is needed in my writing. I want a visual of my characters. So, I get the face in there when I write. I don't blurt it out, though...I pepper it into the prose so that eventually the has the whole thing.
 

Stacia Kane

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I tend to just do quickie sketches. Hair color/style, eye color...square chins for men or pointed for the ladies, something like that, and that's it. "Handsome" or "beautiful", maybe. Most of my heroines aren't beautiful per se so I might describe a flaw, like "her lips were too full for current fashion" or "her skin was more pale than most" or whatever. I don't use images of real people like movie stars or anything either, I tend to let the readers decide and I don't like to pinpoint appearances too much.
 

Saundra Julian

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I like to do things like this...

Getting her height and robust frame from her father’s side of the family, Ellen stood a full head taller than Goldie. Having inherited her mother’s nose only slightly marred her pleasing face.
 
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Carrie in PA

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gwendy85 said:
as far as I've read, Sandra Brown doesn't give too much of a description on her characters' faces (she has suspense romance thing going on w/ "Envy") but I was still able to somehow visualize the character.

Well, if they say "a woman", you're able to visualize the character, no? It might not be the same vision as the author, but it's a vision nonetheless. If you read the back cover and have a gist of the heroine, you'll formulate what she looks like in your head before you ever read the description.

In general, no, I wouldn't describle the facial features, unless it's relevent. In romance, though, there is a lot more physical description than in other fiction, at least from what I read. Is it necessary? Probably not. Is it a hinderance in romance? Probably not.

As in all things writing, just make sure it works.
 

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OK, here's a thing about describing faces. It works for men (as a general rule for the physiognomist), don't know about how it goes for women.

Look at a man's face. Is his jaw square? By that I mean, does he have a pronounced right angle bit below his jaw hinge where the down bit changes to the along it? Does his jaw, at this angled portion, stand out? Or is his jawbone narrow(ish) at this angled bit? It's the stand-out look that is important here. Tom Cruise is the image to have here, at least the jaw bit of his image.

Got all that?

Now look at his ring finger on each hand, the one near the little finger. Is it nearly as long, or even longer, than the middle finger? Any pictures of Tom Cruise's fingers out there?

If his jaw is pronounced in the manner I have mentioned, his ring finger is likely to be quite long. Did you know that link between face description and ring finger length? On some men the ring finger does not even reach the beginning of the nail of the middle finger, on other men it is longer than the middle finger altogether.

One aspect of this combined body feature is that it is an indicator of a high testosterone level. This generally means he will be good in bed. It also means he will probably not be a hang-around-for-a-long-time father to the children he sires.

Now there is one aspect of face description you might like to hint towards in a romance novel.

On the other hand, this might just be me going on about something I just made up. Better do some more research on what face descriptions really tell you about a person. :)
 

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I put in a sketch, but use a characters actions and dialog to paint how they look. I infer it through those things, rather than doing a head to foot description.
 

maestrowork

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What do other historical romance novelists say? What do they do with their books? It doesn't hurt to follow proven footsteps.

There are always writers who describe everything down to the eyelashes and pores. There are writers who leave everything to the reader's imagination. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Too much, you bog down the story and your readers don't really care anyway. Too little, you risk making your characters too generic and "template." To me, the descriptions should be relevant, and if they're relevant, they should be revealed early on.
 

gwendy85

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There's a bit of problem about describing faces in my novel that I failed to mention before.

Okay, I did mention that it was historical, but it was set in the 1940s, WWII (way before any of our hot contemporary actors were born and I doubt readers today would know the actors from back then. Heck! Even I don't!). Also, since it's war, it speaks of invasion, resulting in interracial characters (mostly Japanese, American and Filipino but there are also others). That means I REALLY have to describe the characters, since almost every feature differs between characters.

Any suggestions?
 

Carrie in PA

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gwendy85 said:
Also, since it's war, it speaks of invasion, resulting in interracial characters (mostly Japanese, American and Filipino but there are also others). That means I REALLY have to describe the characters, since almost every feature differs between characters.

Any suggestions?

Wouldn't any of your interracial characters come later and/or be children at the time of your book if that's when the invasion is? Or does it span beyond the 40s? You'll really have to research interracial relationships in that time period. Very, very taboo. Your setting is especially going to affect this. Small town? Big city?

My suggestion is research, research, research.
 

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I don't care for boring descriptions of eyes (wide), cheeks (flushed), nose (slender), and lips (full). But I love it when the author comes up with something unique... I can't think of any great examples, but something like "he had a nose like a boxcar" or whatever.
 

gwendy85

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Carrie in PA said:
Wouldn't any of your interracial characters come later and/or be children at the time of your book if that's when the invasion is? Or does it span beyond the 40s? You'll really have to research interracial relationships in that time period. Very, very taboo. Your setting is especially going to affect this. Small town? Big city?

My suggestion is research, research, research.

I've really looked into that and actually, I'm a product of many ancestral interracial relationships (I'll leave you to guess). I've done my research, esp since i consider myself quite a historian and the setting's in my country so i guess I know the mindset :D And that taboo thing, I definitely used to my utmost advantage :D

Setting>> Big city to small town to mountains to Big city :)
 

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I've been getting slammed (nicely) by quite a few people because I don't have any description of my MC besides blindingly beautiful. I take it, then that most readers want a little something to go by, though not everything. Like penciling in a sketch and then letting them fill in the colors themselves.

One technique that's rather nice is to show the character through contrast with a minor character. For example, instead of telling us your MC is blond, she could be jealous of her friend's pretty dark hair, or something like that.
 

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I think description of faces is important because alot of emotion is displayed through the face. Think about it. You can tell if someone is mad without them saying it out loud because of the look on their face. Sometimes the tiniest actions speak louder then words like this:

Her lashes swept down to fan her cheeks.

It might sound a little flowery to some, but to me its a nice way to describe a shy woman unable to find the courage to speak her mind or someone who is about to start crying. Its all up to you. In my book, I find character description very important with the Greek gods, their eyes are very expressive and their beauty is often combinded with mence making them powerful figures to describe, espically Poseidon and Zeus. From the way they walk to the way they rise an eyebrow, it all says something about their personality and character.
 

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IMHO:

Don't tell me how blindingly beautiful she is.

Don't tell me in minute details how blindingly beautiful she is.

Show me through the way other characters react to her, and through her own action and attitude. Show me through the WORD CHOICES you use.

If they're biracial, just say so. You don't have to tell me hair and eye colors to give me visuals. I know what a Japanese-American may look like. Now, if he has a crooked nose and three teeth missing, do tell me.
 
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