Describing your Characters

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Watcher55
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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by Watcher55 » December 18th, 2010, 9:08 am

dios4vida wrote:"She grimaced at the sight of her disheveled hair. It never cooperated with her, so she usually allowed the long brown curls to cascade freely down her back. This morning she carelessly threw the unruly mass into a ponytail. Her petite frame made her look younger than her years, and the sparkling excitement in her green eyes gave the impression of youthful innocence. Her appearance had changed little as she entered adulthood - her womanly curves proved her maturity, but even now she was often described as “cute” rather than “beautiful.”
Oh, I forgot to mention, I know this is a pre-edited version, but it works for me. I hope you're seriously considering keeping it (it falls under my "necessary" category).

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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by Moni12 » December 18th, 2010, 10:26 am

I used to pay attention to physical descriptions of my characters, I think it was around one of the times I read "Little Women" and I remember Alcott stops the story for a moment to describe each of the March sisters. Now I like to leave the appearances up to the reader's imagination unless there's something in it that's important to the story. Like, my recently finished ms I had to describe the protagonists eyes and briefly mentioned her hair color because she shows up on a wanted poster.

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dios4vida
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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by dios4vida » December 18th, 2010, 10:37 am

Thank you, everyone! You've given me a lot of great advice and enough confidence that I think I can totally make this work now.

Louise Curtis, I was shocked to find out that I had a perfect image of that woman you know without a single physical descriptor. I'm now wondering how many of my conceived notions about characters' appearances are all in my head rather than on the page. That was exactly what I needed to hear to drive the point home, thanks!

And extra thanks to everyone who said something good about that paragraph. Talk about a boost to my writer's self esteem!! I've not done much writing lately, but I'm so jazzed and energized now that I can't wait to get back in. Y'all have given me the best Christmas gift ever - the passion and excitement to start writing again!! YAY!!

<hugs and virtual cookies for everyone>
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by bcomet » December 18th, 2010, 2:38 pm

I think your opening description works fine. It's a choice you have to make.

The only thing that confused me was
the sparkling excitement in her green eyes

against the
she grimaced

since it seems to go from one expression to another and although I know why she grimaced ( bad hair ), I don't know why her eyes (green or otherwise) are sparkling.

What I find is that when a character is well drawn (Imaginable), that the readers will defend the character, even tell the author what that character would do and how they would respond to a given situation.

In one of my writing groups, there are a lot of these kinds of discussions:
"Character A would definitely have a strong reaction to THAT!"
"Character D would never do THAT!"

When that happens, I think the character is down pretty good. The readers are so sure of the character at that point that they won't let the writer get away with going off-character. (He's Alive! Alive!)

In most of these cases, I have observed, that the character may be given descriptions, but not enough to block out the imagined ones of any given reader. More so, the reader feels the person in the character.

It's not the high-heels the chick-lit girl is wearing (even if they are described), it's that she would wear them in the woods and she would be thinking about them. Would they get ruined? Didn't she look hot in them, even in the woods?
The bookish girl wouldn't think about shoes.
The thriathlon girl would mainly be thinking about shoes that would serve her for that purpose, endurance, support, flexibility, etc.
The guy wears trainers because when he's tense, he runs.

Hope these thoughts are helpful. Great conversation!

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PhilipIsles
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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by PhilipIsles » December 21st, 2010, 12:55 pm

dios4vida wrote:One of my biggest problems with writing is with character description. I do mannerisms, voices, and all the important stuff okay, but I can't for the life of me incorporate a physical description of a character without it being a classic info-dump.
In my experience, character comes out best when we observe them reacting to a choice. If they are inactive and nothing is happening to them, the story isn't moving forward, and we get into the dangerous territory of showing vs. telling.
"She grimaced at the sight of her disheveled hair. It never cooperated with her, so she usually allowed the long brown curls to cascade freely down her back. This morning she carelessly threw the unruly mass into a ponytail.
What if your character was in a rush and had very little time to get ready? What is the one thing she would do? The next line could be rephrased so that we see her dealing with this as she rushes out the door.
Her petite frame made her look younger than her years, and the sparkling excitement in her green eyes gave the impression of youthful innocence.
I cut the last line because there is too much telling.
Her appearance had changed little as she entered adulthood - her womanly curves proved her maturity, but even now she was often described as “cute” rather than “beautiful.”
I just don't think she would say/think 'her womanly curves proved her maturity?'

As for physical description, I think your best bet is to pick one or two things that wind up affecting her choices, her actions, and how people react to her. In other words, if you want to talk about her womanly curves, let's see her putting on a dress or getting stuck at the subway turnstile ('darn these womanly curves!')

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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by sierramcconnell » December 21st, 2010, 4:17 pm

I like visual sprinkles. The only problem is I tend to throw them everywhere.

So say for instance three people are having a conversation, I'm going to tell you what they look like, but only if you're paying attention. Because at one phrase, a guy is going to toss his hair, and it's going to give you the color and type. At another turn, I'll tell you other things about him, but interspersed with the other two characters. So it won't be visual overload.

But as I said, I tend to throw sprinkles everywhere. I describe everything. I love detail. Houses, places, items, clothing, people... I want you to know where you are and what you're touching. I want you to feel like you're watching a movie or are ghosting in this place.

You are THERE. And it's a beautiful explosion of tastes and colors and sound and sight.

I'll even tell you what they smell and sound like.
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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by enyouse » December 21st, 2010, 4:21 pm

Until I read this, I didn't realize that of all my characters, I've only physically described, in any minimal way, three. I mention that the villain is pale, one female supporting character is thin and blonde, and a protagonist has almond-shaped eyes.

That's it.

So I suppose my position is, and perhaps my advice is:

Describe the character when it's important for the reader to know what the character looks like. There's no reason to force it. It might help you to know exactly what these created people look like, and sound like, and smell like (there's actually a sh*t-ton of smell in my novel), but maybe the reader doesn't need to know, until they need to know.

Perhaps it's like method acting. There are exercises where you're supposed to do a task -completely unrelated to the story- as your character. Knowing how Nora Helmer feels when she's sewing helps you know how she feels at other times, but you don't have to sew on stage to make that useful.

It might help you to know that the character has tangled hair, is petite but curvy, etc, because that influences her confidence, how people interact with her, what's annoying to her, etc., but maybe you only have to show her, piece by piece, as it comes up in the story.

That said, I think that if someone's getting ready to go somewhere, talking about what always goes wrong with their hair is totally kosher. Green eyes that sparkle with excitement and womanly curves might have to wait for their moment. Are her eyes always sparkling with excitement, or just now? Is she sparkling as she throws her hair up carelessly?

I have problems working physical descriptions like that into third person limited. People almost never perceive themselves clearly - or kindly. Somebody probably sees my sparkling eyes, but I'd never know it unless they told me. In my current writing thingy, I had a lot of trouble getting outside of my protagonists, enough that I could really show any reader what they look like to me. (Prot. A is a chronically in-observant quasi-accidental post-hipster drug lord & substitute teacher; Prot. B is a polyamorous pathologically honest dope-fried drug dealer & perhaps an incarnation of the Buddha. Both are men in their thirties. Neither can plausibly care too much, notice too much, about their appearances. Or anyone elses.). Therefore, there's nothing in the whole damn thing that gives you any way to pick these fellas out of a line-up. I think it works, though, for me, in this one thingy.

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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by dios4vida » December 21st, 2010, 4:47 pm

Thanks so much, everyone. You have no idea how much you've helped me!!

Y'all have convinced me that physical descriptions aren't nearly as important as I thought they were. That's good news for me cause it's one less thing I have to worry about in my WIP. I only have one more question (for now): Do you think there's a danger in not describing someone for several pages, chapters, however long it takes, but then when you finally get around to saying that this person has blonde hair the reader will stop and say "WAIT! I thought they had brown hair all this time! GRR!"?? I guess what I'm wondering is if there's a "cut-off" where you should only reference specifics that you'd already established earlier.

In case y'all were interested, I'm planning on going with the casual observation of my MC and supporting characters in the action of things - like tossing her brown curls in a ponytail cause she's late for an appointment and running out of the house as quickly as possible.

Again, thank you all sooooooo much!!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by sierramcconnell » December 21st, 2010, 5:01 pm

dios4vida wrote:Thanks so much, everyone. You have no idea how much you've helped me!!

Y'all have convinced me that physical descriptions aren't nearly as important as I thought they were. That's good news for me cause it's one less thing I have to worry about in my WIP. I only have one more question (for now): Do you think there's a danger in not describing someone for several pages, chapters, however long it takes, but then when you finally get around to saying that this person has blonde hair the reader will stop and say "WAIT! I thought they had brown hair all this time! GRR!"?? I guess what I'm wondering is if there's a "cut-off" where you should only reference specifics that you'd already established earlier.

In case y'all were interested, I'm planning on going with the casual observation of my MC and supporting characters in the action of things - like tossing her brown curls in a ponytail cause she's late for an appointment and running out of the house as quickly as possible.

Again, thank you all sooooooo much!!
I don't have my second draft with me except in hard copy...

So here's the first draft of Eden Underground, the first descriptory thing on Bradley, from Bradley's P.O.V aside from his age.

The heart monitor gave a blip and he turned to see Nanyael, ever present, checking on it with one hand gliding under the paper scroll. As the lines of blue printed upon the paper of crisp white, Bradley scrutinized the man with jet-speckled greens.

He's wearing contacts, but I never mention that in this draft. I can't remember if I mentioned in early in the second or not. It's a secret he keeps because he doesn't like his eyes.

Its just a couple sentences later when he's describing Nanny...

When he turned, Bradley found it hard to determine whether or not to describe the Watcher’s own gaze as almond or chestnut. Nanyael brushed a hand over his wavy blonde hair and fought to contain it in a small rubber band of orange. The round, golden frames he wore, fell to his chest from a long rope of silver.

But it's a long while until you know what Bradley's hair is like. He has a panic attack, and needs something to distract him. Ah, his hair...

Bradley found his breathing had calmed and his heart was slowing. His face was still flushed but his eyes were beginning to focus once more. He could see his hands were fisting the sheets until the skin had turned pale from the pressure and his nails were white. His eyes alone turned to Nanyael and he watched him through the fall of his ebony hair. It still held the streaks of purple from that night in the club but he had been thinking of going a little electric blue. Maybe green like Fidelis, but then the bartender might get an even bigger ego than he already had.

That's basically how I have a person describing themselves. Kind of a, 'Gah, look at my [insert problem here] hair, it's mess.' Bradley's a little punk so he's got streaks. It was a bit easy. :3

But of course, this is also the first draft. It's been cleaned up severely since then and I know I've changed things. However, this is basically how I do it.
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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by garybak » February 5th, 2011, 9:31 am

I think you've had plenty of good advice here. One thing though. Please consider this:
She grimaced at the sight of her disheveled hair. It never cooperated with her, so she usually allowed the long brown curls to cascade freely down her back. This morning she carelessly threw the unruly mass into a ponytail. Her petite frame made her look younger than her years, and the sparkling excitement in her green eyes gave the impression of youthful innocence. Her appearance had changed little as she entered adulthood - her womanly curves proved her maturity, but even now she was often described as “cute” rather than “beautiful.”
to
She grimaced at her disheveled hair. It never cooperated. She usually allowed the long, brown curls to cascade freely. This morning, she threw the unruly mass into a ponytail.
Still cute, she thought.
IMHO - a tighter feel - but retaining your choices / voice and allowing the reader to conjure up an image - also I have trouble with someone having a 'petite frame' (small and slim) with one having 'womanly curves' - that may be just me and my mind's eye.

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Re: Describing your Characters

Post by sarahdee » February 5th, 2011, 6:50 pm

sierramcconnell wrote:I like visual sprinkles. The only problem is I tend to throw them everywhere.
I try and sprinkle too. There is a bit of physical description but a whole person may be dotted through the book.

The only part in my current WIP where I've really spent a lot of time on description is when a third party is looking at a family photo and comparing the sisters similarities and differences.

NB Its 1925 so the photo is black and white

Jacob looked closely at the four women. Apart from Mags who looked like a teenager the other women all looked the same age. Mags and her mother had the same black hair and large eyes. The photo did not show the colour but he guessed the eyes shared the same fascinating shade of green. Valdheeta and the other girl had lighter hair. “Valdheeta has auburn hair like her father and Alex was blonde,” explained Mags reading his thoughts. Valdheeta started definitely into the camera as if projecting scorn at whoever wielded it. Alex was staring up at the sky behind the photographer with a look of wonderment across her face and Mags and her mother smiled brightly, their neat white teeth gleaming.

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