1. Authoress
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    Authoress New Member

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    Character Description

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Authoress, Jul 4, 2015.

    Many of us who seek writing advice have probably been told to not make a laundry list when it comes to describing your character. Is it necessary to know your character is blonde, has blue eyes? We also know what that looks like so it's not necessary to go into great length to describe it. But what about characters that don't have "normal" or common traits?

    A character I am creating has traits that are not normally human, and I have written the first few pages of her story, but have yet to describe her. Is it even necessary too? I think so personally, but what I am trying to ask is when and where, and how much should I go into it? The last thing I want to do is..." adjective adjective insert hair color here..."
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I think if you have a non-human or non-human-appearing character you should probably describe them. At least highlight their non-human features; it doesn't have to be an extensive description. That's sort of dependent on your style I suppose - I've experimented with minimal descriptions but like, even if I don't mention a cyborg character's height or skin color or hairstyle, I'm probably going to want to point out that he has a robot arm :p You could do it when it comes up - for the cyborg I remember mentioning it one time in terms of him using his mechanical arm for something because he needed more strength - or if you do a basic descrip when they first show up you'd include it in that (eg if cyborg guy walked into a room and someone saw him for the first time and registered him as a short guy with a metal arm).
     
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  3. bumble bee
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    bumble bee Member

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    Is this a classic case of show vs tell?

    Personally I definitely want a beginning of a story to hook me in and I don't think a character description would do that. I would have the first few pages dedicated to getting people interested in her dilemma/situation, maybe with a couple of, "of course she wasn't like other people" hints without saying what it is. Then a little way into the text show her doing something which reveals her 'non-humanness'
    Using a power, or people reacting to her unusual appearance or something that shows her world is fantasy/sci fi or whatever. It's hard to say without knowing what it is!

    If it's relevant to the story it should be possible to describe a situation where the relevance is shown. If it's just that her hair happens to be purple but that doesn't actually effect anything then you're getting into shopping list territory and I'd leave it out.

    Does that help?
     
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  4. jen_writer
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    jen_writer Member

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    If they're not human I think you should describe them as soon as possible, otherwise when you do suddenly describe them the reader will be thinking: 'What? they're not human!'
    The best way to figure out how to do it is look at how the best authors do it and practice some yourself.
    But if you are worried about the 'hook' as bumble bee says just adding little details here and there rather than a large block of description like Dickins would solve both the problem of confusing the reader and the problem of slowing the story down.
    http://io9.com/5823291/great-character-descriptions-from-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books
     
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  5. Authoress
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    Authoress New Member

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    I forgot to mention that the appearance is animal like, and this is common to see in the world I created. So others in the world would think it's normal, but since it's not for us, I knew at some point i'd have to mention that.
     
  6. Authoress
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    Authoress New Member

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    This link was very helpful, thank you! :)
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's often useful to describe physical features as they're doing something. Like, if your character has a giraffe neck (just a weird example), don't describe it on its own, but rather have him ducking to fit through doorways, or stretching up to take something down off a high shelf with his teeth, or whatever. So we get the idea of what the character looks like without ever having it totally described to us.
     
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  8. jen_writer
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    jen_writer Member

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    I recently thought of this though it's probably just remembered from a book:
    when trying to desrcribe something list words related to it e.g. for a river: babbling, gurgling, flowing etc
    I was reading a book called 'driving over lemons' and the description inspired me to think of this.
     
  9. Eliza Rain
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    Eliza Rain Member

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    Other characters reacting off of your character might work as well even if animalistic traits are normal. If some character have different animal characteristics, there's bound to be prejudice, or maybe prejudice between animals and nonanimal forms?

    Just a thought :]
     
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  10. Authoress
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    Authoress New Member

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    Thank you Eliza! You unknowingly tapped into something I plan on writing about later. This will be good, thanks!
     
  11. Eliza Rain
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    Eliza Rain Member

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    Ah, always glad to help. You're welcome! ^-^
     
  12. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to know as much about your character as is required for you as an author to grasp how they act, what they will do, and how to properly describe them doing this.

    That line is going to be in different places for different people, and the work is going to be done at different times.

    Some people fill out forms and find that helpful. Personally I don't. Some people start writing before they've fleshed out a rough bio in their heads - I can't do that. Some people don't name their characters at first, I can't proceed until the character has a finalized and permanent name (usually because that alters my perception - and I can't change names mid stream...at all...I've tried and had to change back). Some people need to know what they're characters do when they get up in the morning - I have no clue - but on the other hand, my main characters all have family histories going back at least two generations, and I've fleshed out their childhood and siblings. Most people don't need that level of detail - I need it because for me it's a big deciding factor in how my characters act and react - and I'd have a problem figuring them out if I didn't have that.

    Really it's a matter of what it takes for YOU to get a handle on these characters to the point where you have an intuitive feeling about how they act and how they look beyond just going through the motions of plot action. For me I know the character is developed where I want them when they stop "behaving" in my head and go off script - which is my brain's way of telling me I've gotten enough of a grasp of this person to know how they act organically when placed in certain situations, and if the script doesn't seem like something they would do, then it's harder for me to see them doing it.
     

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