1. Sentry1157
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    Sentry1157 Member

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    Character Description

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sentry1157, Dec 20, 2010.

    I hope this is the right place to post this:

    When do you think are good times to write a full description of your character(s)(as in what they are wearing, eye/hair/skin color...etc)? Should it be right at the beginning, their first appearance, end of first chapter? anytime after chapter 1?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everyone has a different answer to this. I prefer to get it in as quickly as possible but also to make it part of the story. I don't want my readers developing a wildly different image of my characters at the same time I want them to work their own imagination.

    Think about what you like to read in a book - do it that way. Some people prefer a brief infodump and get it out the way, others prefer no description at all.
     
  3. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Less is more. I've learned to slowly curb any tendencies to go into long-winded descriptions.

    One piece of advice a writer gave me once is to describe the character through the eyes of another, i.e. how they perceive them.

    Another good way is to reveal characteristics slowly as the story unfolds.
     
  4. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    When it's necessary.

    If you feel the description is bogging down the story (even a little) don't do it, or at least find a way to break it up. And always remember the show vs. tell approach. Don't tell me how annoyingly bright his t-shirt is; show me how much it pains other characters to look at. Don't tell me he's wearing heavy work boots; show me how loud and clunky his steps are as he enters the room. Don't tell me how crooked his nose is; mention how he took a punch to the face and is ready to take a few more if he has to. Remember you're describing a character, not just a mugshot or a page from a clothing catalog. The description should pull your readers into the character's personality and show us more than just the superficial things.

    But, again, the main rule is to not go overboard with it. I can't think of many instances where you would need the character's full description all at once. If the character's appearance isn't important, you could just as easily let your readers form their own mental image rather than bombard them with unnecessary information, or you could slowly trickle information in over time, beginning with what is most noticeable.
     
  5. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I agree.

    I don't like long info dumps because it sounds like something from a fashion show where every detail from head to toe is discussed lovingly. I only like that if the character is odd in appearance as compared to everyone else. For instance, he looks like a model, and that's important, or has stone skin or something. If people are supposed to like or dislike a character because of his looks then I need to know that up front somehow. If he has some superpower based on his appearance, then I don't want to have to guess it because spears bounced off his skin in chapter ten.

    Overall, I enjoy hints such as, "He shook his long blonde hair out of his helmet and said hello," because I can fill in the blanks with my imagination. It's more fun.
     
  6. Sentry1157
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    Sentry1157 Member

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    Yeah, I want to give as best description as I can, but still let them use their imagination as well.

    Think about what you like to read in a book - do it that way.[/QUOTE]
    That's a good idea. I'll use some books I read as examples, thanks.

    Ok, thanks, I'll keep that in mind.

    Yeah, I've come up with sentences like that. It describes the character as the story continues, without stopping for several paragraphs to explain how they look and what their wearing...etc

    Thanks guys, this helps a lot :)
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    slip in a line here and there so it's woven in naturally and not in a huge chunk
     
  8. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    That was one cryptic answer!
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Never. :)

    OK, maybe that's a little extreme, but I think that most stories don't need a full, detailed description of the characters. What you _do_ provide should come pretty early, but think hard about how much you need. For example, I think that you very rarely need eye color. I'm usually content with little things like "A short, plump elderly woman with flyaway white hair."

    And I wouldn't sneak it description there when the sneaking isn't sneaky--for example, "She shook out her fiery curls, turned her sky-blue eyes to him, and said..." isn't sneaky, it's obvious. If you're going to say that she has red curly hair and blue eyes, just say it.

    I just grabbed _By the Pricking of My Thumbs_ by Agatha Christie, to see what she does. She went with "just say it":

    "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....." and so on.

    So, an unsneaky flat-out description, with the past-versus present "angle" giving it a sort of internal plot that keeps it from being a boring catalog of features.

    ChickenFreak
     
  10. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    There's only one place you'll find massive info dumps regarding the protagonist:

    Gormless self-insert fanfiction.

    Try googling "worst fanfic ever" or "My immortal" with "Harry Potter". The entire first chapter is spent talking about herself.

    [/hate]

    Only ever describe details that matter: Details that a character notices or details that affect what is happening. If a character could be accurately and comprehensively described in a single sentence, paragraph or even chapter, then they're not vast enough.

    Think about it: Harry potter has a scar, but does J.K.Rowling stuff his entire family history down your throat in the first chapter, or even the first book? The best way to reveal details about a character are as they crop up as the story progresses.

    If it's not worth mentioning via this method, it's not worth mentioning at all.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with ChickenFreak. I don't like full detailed descriptions of the characters for the most part, though there have been some exceptions where it has worked for me. Otherwise, I prefer a few key features. The reader's imagination is going to fill in a lot of details. If you provide full detail the reader is likely to ignore a lot of it, mentally, and proceed with their own mental image. If you are nevertheless going to provide that level of character detail, you might as well do it early, though, because the longer you wait to do it the more it is going to conflict with what the reader already envisions in her mind (which makes it even more likely your description will be ignored in the mind of the reader or, worse, will be jarring to the reader).
     
  12. Haribo Icecream
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    Haribo Icecream Member

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    I like to give characters minimal description, especially main characters. The more open the description, the easier it is to slip into their shoes :)
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't really like to give much description at all. Often I feel people just end up making a list, which is neither interesting nor relevant to the story, and it ends up feeling really tagged-on, or forced.

    I think do it wherever the scene allows. The key is just to make it a part of the story - if you're describing every item of someone's clothing, make it somehow relevant to the story. Eg. what did your MC think of those clothes? What does that reflect about the character's personality? Instead of just making a random list, which is often boring. I ignore a lot of it personally whenever I read.
     

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