1. Agent Vatani
    Offline

    Agent Vatani Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2010
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    In the land of writing

    Appearances

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Agent Vatani, Dec 29, 2010.

    Okay, I am good with a bio, personality and coming up with a character. I see the character's look in my head but I can't put it down. I don't have enough detail in that area of writing.

    Any tips on how to get more detail of a appearance?
     
  2. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    Start with the basics, hair colour, eye colour, skin tone. Build, is there anything unusual or important about their size. What are they wearing ? Then find things to compare it to for example I have a character who is built like a Behemoth and another who has birdlike features (his mother is a sparrow) so his eyes are intense and move independantly. A comparison I find gives something memorable to build on - so maybe that character has military bearing, his hair is cut like a tonsure without a bald spot. Does he have anything that stands out - height, funny ears, big feet. Do they look like their parents or do they stand out in their family. Are they part of a race etc
     
  3. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,529
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    Read several favorite authors. Pay attention and see how they do it. Then, modify to your needs and style.
     
  4. Archnenna
    Offline

    Archnenna Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2010
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    31
    Location:
    Croatia
    I don't know if this might help you, but it helps me.

    Try searching stock photos. Once you find a photo of a person that you think matches your character's looks, observe it carefully and try writing what you see. First write in tips, and then rewrite it into sentences.

    As I said, it helps me. It might not help you, but you can try and see.
     
  5. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    You should also be aware that you really don't need to describe your character's appearance in detail. If there's something unusual about him, or something about his appearance that becomes important to the story (maybe he's confined to a wheelchair, or is very tall, or has six fingers on his left hand, for example) then include that, but don't overdo the description.
     
    1 person likes this.
  6. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I think that it's not necessary, and in fact it's usually a mistake, to describe a character's appearance in detail. A general impression is usually enough:

    "He was middle-aged, tall and broad. He had a civilized air, enhanced by old-fashioned professorish tweeds."
    "She was blond, with a runway model's figure and manner, but her clothes looked like a mistmatched lot from the thrift shop."

    And, no, I'm not defending these as _good_, just trying to give examples of what I mean by a general impression.

    ChickenFreak
     
  7. Agent Vatani
    Offline

    Agent Vatani Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2010
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    In the land of writing
    Thanks everyone. :D It helped.

    @:Chicken freak: That's how I detail my character right now....

    I don't think we have to worry again over doing it. It's more like under doing it.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    It occurs to me that an example that I gave recently in another thread about description might be relevant. In an Agatha Christie novel, she started out describing a pair of characters like this:

    "Mr. Beresford had once had red hair. There were traces of the red still, but most of it had gone that sandy-cum-grey color that redheaded people so often arrive at in middle life. Mrs. Beresford had once had black hair, a vigorous curling mop of it....."

    The description continues this way, talking about how Mrs. Beresford decided not to dye her hair when it turned gray, and bought a cheerful lipstick instead, and so on. To me, this kind of detailed description works because it's not _just_ description. It tells us things about the characters, and it also has a sort of internal plot in the way that it talks about what they used to look like and what they look like now. This keeps it from being a boring catalog of features.

    Now, I should note that this book is several decades old. :) So while I like it, it's not necessarily an example of current practice.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,299
    Location:
    California, US
    I'm not sure you can really under-do it. Overdoing it is a distinct possibility, however.
     
  10. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    I usually get annoyed when writers devote an entire paragraph to laying out all of someone's looks. "She was a blond with brown eyes, a short curvy frame, and looked to be in her late twenties." etc etc etc.

    Personally I prefer when the details are woven in naturally. "She bit her lip in annoyance, shoving away the strands of brown hair that always fell in front of her face." Then, later, briefly mention something else about how she looks. But for now, boom. We know she has brown hair.

    Don't abuse the mention-in-passing thing, either. Steer away from saying "She put eyeliner across her dark brown eyes, shoved her messy blond hair into a ponytail and put on her size 6 jeans." This does not feel natural. I guess it might work sometimes but not when it's done to the nth degree.

    Okay, I'm just saying how I do it -- lots of pro writers can get away with the descriptions I mentioned above, but I've also seen it done badly, and when it's done poorly it seems cliche and obnoxious. Be careful.

    Something you don't want to EVER do is the mirror technique. You know, where the main character wakes up in the morning and "I looked in the mirror at my chestnut skin, my flowing hazel hair that parted in the middle and my wide green eyes..." NO.
     
  11. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    It can be used successfully - just not like that. I pinched something I had read somewhere for mine - basically had Socrates sorting his hair out (he is vain about his hair he wouldn't go out without it perfect), then had Angus come up behind him after an emotional scene where they have discovered they are only half brothers. Allowed for a discussion in Socrates head about the differences between them. Works better in situ.

    The mirror works well if it is woven into the story, like waking up on their birthday or day after the night before, or a relationship break up. Making it a time when you would peer intensely at yourself and maybe evaluate the appearance.
     
  12. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    I agree with Minstrel on this one.
    Let your readers discover your character through their inter/actions and dialogue and leave the rest up to the reader's imagination.
    Listen to radio dramas, they don't have an over- voice telling us, the listeners, what the characters look like or what they are wearing, yet through their dialogue and actions we build a picture of the characters and setting, it may not be the same images that the playwright had had in-mind, but what the heck! if we enjoy the play?
     
  13. Agent Vatani
    Offline

    Agent Vatani Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2010
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    In the land of writing
    Thanks y'all.

    Is this good:
    Nicole looked at Ron, he has changed some much in four years. He stood around six-one, 180 pounds and his around green eyes were glowing in the sunlight. His chocolate brown hair is shaggy slightly passed his ears.

    That's how I detailmy characters. Is that under doing it? (Sorry for the grammar mistakes.)
     
  14. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    It depends my question in this situation would be how has he changed - it needs to be a comparison. Otherwise it is just a description, rather than part of the story.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    In a way, it's overdoing it, because we don't need the specifics like exact height and weight. (It's not as if he's standing on a scale and next to a ruler when Jane looks at him.) And I'd throw in a bit of an internal story for the description--you've suggested one ("changed in four years"), but you didn't follow it very far. One possibility:

    "Ron had changed in four years. Then, he'd been a skinny adolescent, startlingly tall, six feet or more. He'd filled out to match the height, but his hair was just the same--brown, falling just past his ears, and as shaggy as if he'd cut it himself."

    This isn't great, but it demonstrates what I mean. I tried to get the green eyes in there, but I just couldn't get them in gracefully without some plot point to hang them on. (Maybe they're what first attracted Jane to him, if they were once romantically involved?)

    In any case, you don't need all of it. I think you could do just fine with:

    "Ron was a big guy, with shaggy brown hair."

    Crayfish
     
  16. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    LOL blame Chicken Freak I can never resist this :) Every writer and reader has a different reaction to description. If it can't be fit in any place I would rather just a brief description on meeting - I like to know eye. hair colour, general build and what they are wearing. Others don't need any of it - what do you like to know when reading?

    Nicole looked Ron up and down. Noting the changes the years had brought, he still stood tall, a little rounder than she remembered. His shaggy brown hair was glinting in the sunlight, Nicole wondered if he dyed it. At least those stunning green eyes were still the same.

    It probably doesn't work right in your story but the important thing is to tell the story with it rather than give the block of information.
     
  17. Agent Vatani
    Offline

    Agent Vatani Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2010
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    In the land of writing
    Yeah probably should have put that. But it was a random come in.

    Thanks, I see what you mean.

    But I'm not under doing it? That's what I'm more worried of.
    Thanks everyone.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I don't think you're under doing it, no. All those half-page descriptions with sparkling eyes and rippling midnight-black hair and bulging muscles and aristocratic noses and dimpled chins are, IMO, a waste of ink. Now, there may be some genres where they're expected, but I think they're the exception.

    ChickenFreak
     
  19. colorthemap
    Offline

    colorthemap Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2010
    Messages:
    506
    Likes Received:
    3
    Look, I always forget character appearances unless it is part of the plot so I recommend not to stress over it and just let it slip into your story which I am sure it will.
     
  20. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    Elg, in certain circumstances the mirror thing can work. For example, let's say your protag is an insecure girl slamming herself for her zits while in the mirror. This is ok as a method to convey she has zits, because it's a real thing you'd look in the mirror for. Same with using it to develop characters: showing someone preening, etc.

    What I meant was when someone does something like..."I checked in the mirror to see if there was anything stuck in my teeth. Nothing was. Intead, I just saw my long messy red hair, my blue eyes, and the freckles that dotted my nose. My red heels added to my height of 5'3" and it goes on and on like that in a giant info dump lol.
     
  21. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    LOL I do agree - think I had just finished writing a mirror scene with Socrates - he is so bloody vain he gets away with them. My other two main characters Angus and Nate wouldn't. Don't think Angus knows what a mirror is and Nate isn't that bothered either.

    No - if anything your style of description is overdoing it. The amount of description is about right - I think the chocolate brown for me is a bit flowery.

    Like others have said do it how you like to read it.
     

Share This Page