1. UrbanBanshee
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    UrbanBanshee Member

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    Character Appearences

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by UrbanBanshee, Feb 2, 2012.

    I have very specific images of what my characters look like. Hair style, face shape, eye color, fashion style etc. I'm an artist so part of creating a character for me is drawing a reference picture of what they look like. Not just main characters either, but most of my main cast.

    I wondered how about the rest of you out there. How specific do you get about your characters? Even if you never reveal everything do you have an exact image in your mind what they look like? Just your main character if you do or everyone?
     
  2. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    For me, I have a silhouette of the character in my mind. I've found that I, and other people I talk to, make up our own ideas of what a character looks like anyway, regardless of what the author's description is. Because of this, I try to limit the amount of description I give my character and just let the story unfold. This way, I hope that the reader can put themself into the character's place and not be bogged down in my descriptions of my vision of the character.

    In any case I think it's much more important for the character to have a personality, which I do have very clearly in my mind when I'm writing them.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I only include a few big-picture details. Hair color, glasses (if they wear them, in which case I also mention the color and style of said glasses), eye color, or whether they're tall or short (only if I envision them as either as opposed to in the middle). Maybe body type, too, but not too many specifics: just a general sense of whether they're thin, fat, curvy, wiry, etc.

    I always slip it in subtly, too, in passing. If I really want the reader to envision the character for some reason, I'll limit the exposition to one sentence max, and it will still be in passing rather than the sole focus of the sentence. I'm not a big fan of giant blocks of description about what characters look like. I don't knock other writers for doing it if their writing is good and they know what they're doing overall, but it's not my style personally.
     
  4. UrbanBanshee
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    UrbanBanshee Member

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    Personality is very important too. In my mind though a characters appearance does depend a lot on their personality. Are they tanned due to spending a lot of time out doors or are they paler and more comfortable in an air conditioned room. How do they wear their hair? Are they out of date with the fashions, or perhaps a trend setter.

    There is a lot that never actually goes into the writing. I might never mention a character's slightly upturned nose, but to me creating a character includes knowing such trivial things. :) Large blocks of text solely devoted to the precise shade of color a characters shoes are, all the way to the type of earrings they may wear can be a bit much. Especially if it is done because a writer feels they are supposed to give all the information possible.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually visualise them for myself in good detail, but I don't specify it when I'm writing, so readers can make up their minds. I describe something about them, a peculiarity, a trait, something, but not "painting a picture with words" type thing.
     
  6. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I wish I could paint..hehe:D
    I tend to concentrate on snapshots of say eyes because they are the window of your soul, and compare them to something else for effect.
    I imagine a camera taking flahs shots of the eyes or the mouth or just theface depending of what I am trying to say.
    For example in a story I used this little expression to signify the importance of looking and eyes becomes the signifier rather then internal thoughts
    ''..revealing a set of blue eyes as piercing as the skies of Julys....''
    so looks are used for contrast.
     
  7. KinkyCousin
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    KinkyCousin Member

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    I slip in refrences to their main features early on (hair colour, eye colour, etc) but I don't go into too much detail.
     
  8. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    I don't go too much into detail unless for some reason a character's appearance is really important. Sometimes I'll randomly say something like, "Aisa's dark blue eyes stared longingly at the sky/a strong breeze tousled her dark brown hair" early in the beginning but this is almost always edited out.

    Most of the time I'll just describe the person in a general way. I'll just say something more like, "Aisa was a young girl with big blue eyes and an honest smile" or "Larry was an older man built like a truck driver" and let the reader fill in the blanks themselves.
     
  9. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    Interesting use of the expression
    'honest smile'
    this made me laugh it is never an expression I would use, it is interesting to read and compare with others.:p
     
  10. shakespear57
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    shakespear57 Member

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    I have a picture of my character in my mind - and not just the main character but every single character no matter how minor - and even though i sometimes dont give any description other than the colour of their hair or the type of shoes they're wearing, i can still picture every single detail. sometimes i write down the whole description, but i never actually include it in my stories :)
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have pretty specific pictures of my characters - sometimes actors, sometimes historical figures, sometimes relatives! But I find I can keep the characters more real in my head this way, plus it helps me imagine their facial expressions and how they move in action scenes. (But no, I rarely mention looks in my actual stories.)
     
  12. Kitty08
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    I do appreciate it when authors tell us what their characters look like. It shouldn't be a huge block of text, but if they mention in passing that the character has "a small nose" or "broad, high cheekbones" along with the usual hair/eye color descriptions, it really helps me form a mental picture. Like others have said here, of course everyone will form their own mental images of the characters, and that's fine. But a little guidance helps. :) I like to draw out my characters too, to keep their appearances straight, but they usually end up looking like zombies as I'm a horrible artist. So nobody sees the drawings but me. :p
     
  13. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can see my characters very clearly - it's scary how vivid they can be sometimes.

    Readers don't need to know everything, but I write romance/ero so I think it's important that the reader have an idea of of the characters appearance. Most of the time I put myself in the narrating character's head and only comment on the things he would notice, at the same rate he would notice them.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I see my characters in great detail, but I don't describe them to the reader that way. I'll usually only mention a feature of a character if it matters to the plot. A boy may be small enough to hide in the bottom dresser drawer, for instance, or a man may be tall enough to reach the sword hanging over the mantel. That sort of thing. I usually don't even bother mentioning hair or eye color - it usually doesn't matter, so I figure the reader can picture whatever he wants.

    But if a character has unusual features, such as large scars, missing fingers, or the like, I'll mention those.
     
  15. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    That is real hidden talent you have.
    I can not see them for love or money, I can't even hear them.
    My characters take shape just a like a word no more no less.
    That it is why I don't bond with them nor fear for or get annoyed by them.
    I simply do not see them.:p
     
  16. Jowettc
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    I'm not so worried about the visual details, unless of course it's essential to the story.

    I do think it's important for me to be able to put myself in their shoes though - feel what they feel, see what they see, smell what they smell. Other than that my mental images are reasonable but not overly specific. Couldnt tell you the colour of their hair or eyes, for example, but could tell you if they were tall, broad, thin, small etc.
     
  17. Boriol
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    Boriol Member

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    I start with a general idea and draw whatever comes to mind. I'm an artist as well, so it's nice to have at least a few fullbody concepts down. Then, when writing them in, I don't force the description. I let it come when it makes sense in the story. Usually, I try to put it in the beginning, because it's kinda dumb to go through a 75,000 word book and only know what the main character looks like in the last 5,000 words.
     
  18. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I have an image of them in my head, but only necessary pieces are included in the story.

    I don't like stock descriptions that relay info about hair color, eye color, height, etc. I might say something like, "she had a model's legs and her nose looked like it could smell things at a distance," or, "his stomach poked out over his pants; I always expected his belt to buckle under the pressure," or something. The reader has likely seen such a person and can fill in other details using their own memory.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I know what my character looks like to me. However, I don't feel compelled to dictate every aspect of a character's appearance to the reader. There are real advantages to letting the readers use their own imaginations.

    For example, in my short story Blue, I wanted the appearance of the woman in the jazz club to be the reader's ideal of a mysterious, sultry, beautiful, dark haired woman. My idea of beauty will be different in the details than those of any reader. The only details I provided were her dark hair, blue dress, and startlingly blue eyes - details important to making the ending work.

    I left the appearance of the protagonist and his coworker vague as well, so the reader would relate better to the characters.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    cog's advice is sound... my best advice is to follow it!
     
  21. Pyraeus
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    Pyraeus Member

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    I say what the hair looks like, it's colour, their eye colour, their build, and then also any important factors about them (Has a scar on their face, missing an eye etc.)
    I try not describe them all at once; I usually just mention the eyes and hair, and if they have a scar I might say it twitches as they smile. If they move gracefully, then I'll mention that when they move. I've got a phobia of going into too minute detail over what they look like.
     
  22. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I 'build' my characters over time, going by the show-your-reader, not the tell-your-reader method.

    I did describe one character in better detail, and that was a female mercenary. The characters she shared scenes with were pretty tough guys, so I made her tougher--even describing the rows of martial arts icons on her serratus muscles. It seemed an easier way to show that she belonged there.
     
  23. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    I see the physical appearance as a subjective tool... If I want people to think certain character is scary, I often describe some little physical details that could lead the reader to think said character is scary and then I would move on. I'm more interested in writing down the impression the appearance of my characters give -- and not how they actually look like, even if I bring myself to write eye color, hair color, hair texture and body frame.
     
  24. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    I have a profile for each character, which includes a very detailed description of their appearance, but I don't put all of it into the story. In some cases, I have pulled images from the internet that look the most like how I imagine the character looks. The profile and the images help me visualize the characters in situations, and determine how their physical appearance might influence their behavior and those around them.
     
  25. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I know what my MC looks like because his appearance is inspired by an actor, or rather a very specific image of this actor from a photo shoot. The expression on his face perfectly captures my MC's character and the body language epitomises his manner, as well as fitting him physically. But I can't expect to convey that image or inspiration to the reader. So I pick out the things that make him different and demonstrate his character; because of an ancient tribal affiliation he has a beard and wears his hair long, although his wife hates it and would prefer him clean shaven and wearing a wig like all the other fashionable aristocrats. He has a tattoo on his chest (this is a plot point) and is unusually tall for an Egyptian (another plot point - he's only half Egyptian, unbeknownst to his wife). I don't think I've mentioned the colour of his eyes or skin because they're not remarkable - just like most Egyptians, he has dark eyes and bronzed skin. I assume most people will take that for granted as I haven't said any different.

    Then there's the question of how you introduce details of your character's appearance. I prefer to do it from another character's perspective when they first meet, as this is a natural part of first impressions. And until it actually becomes something of interest to the POV character, there isn't really a lot of call to mention physical details at all.
     

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