1. skeloboy_97
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    skeloboy_97 Senior Member

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    Character Detail- How much is to much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by skeloboy_97, Nov 22, 2010.

    A lot of character detail is great, but how much is to much? What do you think
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Steer clear of the "character profile sheets" that map out things like the MC's favorite food, favorite band, eye color, height, weight etc. No one cares.

    Instead, focus on the things that are important to the story. Motivation, psychological turning points, fears/weaknesses, strengths, growth points, falls from grace/regression points, etc.

    You also want to give the character some quirks or unique traits - anything to make the character more than a predictable stereotype. This all depends on the role the character plays in the story.

    Hope I helped!
     
  3. rpgnerdette
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    rpgnerdette New Member

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    When I am coming up with a character I imagine following them through an average day in their life. Usually I sit down and write things they would do and how they do it. After mentally following them for a day, I usually have a pretty clear picture of what they are like. There quirks, things that make them either stand out or blend in, and what any other person would want to know about them.
    Also, don't worry about gaining too much information about your character, if you end up with a 5 page biography on them, cut some out. Does the reader really need to know if the main character collected toy planes as a child? Is it important if the reader knows that the main characters great aunts dogs previous owner had only one leg and spoke like a pirate due to a car accident 7 years ago?
    Maybe put different details into three spots: Vital, Neat, Boring. Anything you don't feel is Vital or Neat gets cut out, it isn't important to the story.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you mean too much detail in the story?

    I personally when I am reading like to know hair, eye colour, reasonable idea of height and build - also what the character is wearing. I also don't like not knowing the name. I aim to get that information into the first couple of pages of my stories. I have found that sometimes the hardest thing especially in a first person context - I have found an arguement with a lover, birthday, comparison with sibling the best way to make a mirror or other appraisal more natural and less forced.
     
  5. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    If it's not relevant it's not necessary.

    Character details are supposed to add to the character, so unless it helps you seamlessly build an image of who the character is for the reader it's a waste.

    For instance: The jovial town blacksmith has a thick accent and a limp, will talk your ear off about his three wonderful daughters and is never seen without his family tankard. In a fantasy setting, that's pretty much all you need: His favourite food, colour and birthday are details you wouldn't include unless they were pivotal to the story.

    A more common example of too much detail is the terrific tendency that writers have of gushing about either a character's physical appearance or backstory.

    The former is endemic to the emo teen romance genre where narcissistic writers will spend an entire chapter detailing the makeup and wardrobe of their shameless self-insert avatar and how infatuated everyone is with them (Google "My Immortal" or "worst fanfic ever" and you'll see what I mean).

    The latter I guess would be found in a fantasy setting where writers try to cram as much backstory into as tight an info dump as possible because they don't know how to show a setting/character's history instead of tell. Imagine a "prologue" that reads like a high school history book detailing a fictional war with characters that are already dead that has minimal impact on the plot in 10,000 words before you even learn the main character's name.

    Again, in short: Tailor it to your audience. Different demographics enjoy obsessing over different details, but different genres are vulnerable to different pitfalls.
     
  6. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    You as the author needs to know your main characters really well, so that you will know how they would act in any given situation. We the readers only need to know what is relevant to the story, as it is needed.
    I don't believe large chunks of detail are ever a good idea. They slow down the story and can be a real turn-off.
     
  7. Show
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    I like general and brief descriptions of characters, including eye/hair color, and build. It helps get a better "feel" for them. Don't go overboard but I don't mind them. Favorite foods/bands may not be relevant but I feel appearance is.

    How they'll react is something I don't wanna know starting off. I wanna discover that later. So when I'm introduced, let me see what they look like. Then once I got that outta the way, I can see how they'll react.

    I disagree with the premise of "if it isn't relevant to the story, don't do it." That seems a recipe for a bit of a monotonous story. I say if it isn't relevant to the story, make it relevant. :p

    As for what you should do, do what you would like to read. I find that the best advice. Asking others what really only gets you personal opinions. Some people hate descriptions, some cannot connect with a character without them. The best way to get the best possible results is to write it the way you'd like to read it.
     
  8. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    That would depend on the reason you are writing. If you are writing for yourself to have fun, then there is no limit.

    If you are writing with the audience in mind, then you have to limit yourself to what the audience would like. Unless you are writing a textbook, it is best to keep details to a minimal. Need-to-know basis I say. Reading is all about the imagination, after all!
     
  9. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Tcol4417 got it precisely. You want enough details to tell the story and give your readers a sense of who the character is and what the character looks like. Sometimes the setting will limit the details you need to give -- for example, for most stories you don't need to say "he was a human," and for stories set in 1400s Japan you don't need to say "the character had straight black hair."

    Other times, the characters will be from a very diverse area, and you might feel the need to specify height and hair color (and style if that's relevant) and clothing (again, if relevant to the situation) and any ritual markings or tattoos. Scars, eye color, freckles, birthmarks, body type -- but only if they apply and are necessary to the plot.

    If the character is famous for a scar he got while serving as a bodyguard to a movie star, you should mention the scar; it will restrict the things he can do anonymously, and will have some social benefits as well as drawbacks. If the character is slender with cordlike runner's muscles, and it's a plot point that he is a fast runner, mention this. Otherwise, you can just say he's slender and fuhgeddabout the muscles -- they don't come into the story.

    Personality descriptors matter a lot too, because they set up expectations for the reader. Someone who is described as impatient shouldn't always be calm and attentive. Someone who has anger problems shouldn't simply accept an enemy spitting in his face. That sort of thing really does matter; the expectations must be met or the reader will be constantly reminded that this is a character rather than a person.

    Description is only "too much" in a couple of cases. First, if you dump it all in at once, that's bad. You don't need to stop everything to get all the bits and pieces in; instead, incorporate the information into a larger scene. He can "run his hands through his untidy brown hair" in the middle of a conversation, or he can notice that a new callous is developing on his sword hand where his thumb comes into contact with the hilt.

    Second, if you throw in a lot of information that doesn't contribute to the story, your readers will be annoyed, and that's bad. His favorite color, his favorite instrument, the number of freckles on his nose -- no. Just no. Unless it's actually relevant to the story, take that information out; no one will notice, which is a good sign it shouldn't have been there in the first place.
     
  10. Show
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    But we gotta give the imagination something to go on too. :p IDK, I feel the opposite. Text books are when I say you stick to the need-to-know basis and stories are when you let your imagination take over. But in terms of need-to-know, I think I need to know these exact details. So need-to-know, IMO, is subjective, like everything else. I don't think there's really a black and white answer at all cause everyone's reading preferences are different.
     
  11. miss_darcy
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    miss_darcy Member

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    I like knowing what the character's hair color and eye color is, their general body type, and if they have any weird features like a bizzare scar or something. But I don't like it all at once (i.e. Jane was tall and slim. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a pretty smile. The only thing that she didn't like was her crooked nose and she had a bit of a granny's second wave.) I don't like reading that because it sounds so choppy (and granted I came up with that in 5 seconds) but I like the character's description throughout the chapter they are introduced in or if that feature is doing an action (i.e. Alexandars coal black eyes scanned the room for any trace of life).
     
  12. Show
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    I agree. I like these details to be revealed in some interesting ways, especially the eyes as I think eyes are one of the most important features of a person, especially in my stories.
     
  13. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Hence the minimal information. ^^ Only detail as much as necessary. Everything else will come from the actions of the character.

    It is because everyone is different that the writer will be the one to determine what is necessary.
     
  14. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Hello, I have a question about character delevopment. If I have a character that will be only mentioned in only one chatper, do I still have to make that character "round" and add more details to her like the main characters?
     
  15. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Ops, I didn't mean to double post this message. Please delete this one if anyone have a chance.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't usually unless there is a reason for it like identifying parentage or tribe influence etc It isn't as necessary -
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't usually unless there is a reason for it like identifying parentage or tribe influence etc It isn't as necessary -
     
  18. Show
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    So if the writer determines what is necessary, then "minimal" or "need-to-know" become a tad meaningless since any authors can make a case for the necessity of the details they include.
     
  19. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    That can be said for all advices given, yes? These are only ideas. It is up to the writer to interpret them.
     
  20. Show
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    It can and it can't.
     
  21. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    If you rob the reader of imaginative involvement, you've gone too far.

    It's a tough tightrope to walk.
     
  22. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Agreed.

    Also, the difference between "to", "too", and "two" will do wonders for your writing career ;).
     
  23. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    Make it vague. Maybe don't go so far as to describe the character in more than one paragraph. It shouldn't take very much. Maybe mention the hair, the eyes, and perhaps the build, if necessary. If anything is odd about them or what they're wearing, it would be best to mention it. Most of the description should be left to the reader, anyway. Books are meant to encourage imagination and that's what sets it apart from the visuals, I think.
     
  24. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Character detail

    Great question! I run into this a lot. Because I tend to love the characters and the world I created, I can't get enough. So I could go on all day about every aspect.

    I obviously control myself in novel format, the best I can. The only true way to determine if its too much or not enough, is test it on someone in your target audience. They'll quickly notice a problem, if there is one.

    Biggest problems I face personally come from writing in a multi-genre style. I had to really buckle down and pinpoint which genre was the most categorically correct for my book. Then I tend to pay attention to those readers desires and comments with a bit more weighted thought.
     

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