1. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    Character physical descriptions: Show don't tell?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Iain Aschendale, Feb 12, 2015.

    I'm struggling with describing a couple of my characters physically. I've got fairly good images of them in my head, but I'm having trouble putting those descriptions into the story without it sounding like a stats sheet. It is a romance of sorts, but I'm trying to avoid veering too far into Harlequin "His muscles rippled beneath the bonds of his....gaak, no."

    My female character is 5'2" (~156 cm), 115 pounds (52 kilos) mostly flat muscle as she's a rock climber, short, spiky blond hair, probably blue eyes. My male character is modeled in my mind after a younger Matthew McConaughey (remember, romance, cut me some slack :)) from around EdTV / Contact era, about 6 feet (180 cm), curly hair, well muscled but not bulky (skydiver/wingsuit flyer) possibly some tattoos.

    Here's where I'm at, any suggestions you could offer me would be much appreciated:

    Thanks for looking.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It seems clear that the POV is the woman's, so I would eliminate the "spiky blond hair", especially the "blond" part. Wind might feel different in short spiky hair, so it's juuuust barely plausible that she'd be thinking of that, especially if she just had it cut from long hair. But wind doesn't feel different in blond versus dark hair, so it seems implausible that she's thinking about the fact that her hair is blond.

    Also, you gave a good reason for him caring about her weight, but not her height.

    And I feel that there's a little too much "Oh, by the way" descriptive load in this paragraph. It would be different if you were clearly and openly describing, though that also comes smoother if you have a reason for it. For example, maybe she's surprised that he has an expensive-looking "unruly on purpose" haircut, since she expected a jump instructor to look like a Marine. That thought opens up an excuse to discuss his looks, and that could go rolling along for a while--a Marine might have a tattoo, but it wouldn't look like THAT tattoo, and he certainly wouldn't be wearing that irreverent shirt, and at least she's no longer feeling defensive about her own punk-style haircut, and...

    Editing to add: You justify the mention of her weight very nicely. It's the rest that I feel is unjustified "Oh, by the way..." description.
     
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  3. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    Very nice thoughts, thanks!

     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    A shirt can appear too small for the muscles busting out of it.

    A missing button the POV character imagines to herself popped off when he took a deep breath.

    Shirts can be too big as well if you are showing a thinner person.

    Besides clothing, think about things that are a problem for large people. The chair sagged under the weight of all those muscles.

    A tall person has to duck under a doorway.
     
  5. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    Good points, but he's not huge. What I've got in mind is more "Fight Club" bodies than "300" or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    So his shirt can be tailored to fit that perfect body, or the character can wonder what is under that tailored shirt. I'm trying to get you to think outside the "stats sheet" box.

    [side note] As for commenting on your example, I'm going to leave that until you've been here 2 weeks and met the posting-in-the-workshop requirements (see the rules).

    I don't think it was wrong for you to post that short bit, so I'm not trying to scold you or anything. There's a grey area between asking for critique of a piece and asking about a couple paragraphs. Your post and questions are legit and do belong in this sub-forum. But the point of offering critique on other's work before asking us to critique yours is important. [/side track]

    On the other hand, asking about writing description is not asking for critique. But you have to grow your skills rather than just get the answers. Think of ways you can describe appearance while writing something else.

    If the guy is buff but trim, have him easily move something out of the way: "He picked up the suitcase like it was a feather."

    There are many ways to do this, but you have to work on building up the skill.

    The way I do it is I write the story as it is in my head. Then I go back and change the telling to showing, eliminate the filter words, and so on. My son and I were talking about this Monday. What we came up with is I'm probably using different parts of my brain, or different thought processes when I'm getting the initial story down. I have to go back then and use different thinking to change the writing from dorky to good.
     
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  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dude, you very smoothly gave us her weight and the fact that she rocks climb. This is enough! Stop there.
     
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  8. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    GingerCoffee, thanks for your advice. I hadn't realized that I was in a gray area, but I can see that I was, and I'll make sure to stay clear of that sort of thing.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's not a big deal. Don't let my comments make you feel unwelcome. I was explaining why I wasn't giving you more direct answers. :)
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Whoops, wrong thread. :oops:
     
  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    OP, I think you're on the right track. I quite enjoyed the description you've already got there, and there have been good suggestions so far. I especially liked your MC "justifying" her weight. I mean, one-fifteen is not even heavy, but it felt like such a... humane thing to add "I climb." 5lbs of muscle on a small girl won't show, but it's nice how you took it into consideration that muscle weighs more than fat. She could be even lighter, I think (I'm 5'7'', weigh 115lbs cos I've finally managed to build some muscle, and I've got 12,7 % of fat in my bod, so nowadays it looks and feels reasonably athletic from boxing, biking, body weight exercises, and running), depending on how much muscle she's built over the years.

    I think it was Patricia Briggs (the author of Mercedes Thompson novels) who said she has the writer's hat on first, then the editor's hat. It feels like a pretty natural thing to do, although nowadays I'm wearing the editor's hat way longer... Which, I guess, tells something about my writing skills... or lack thereof. :wtf:
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I enjoy romance books and often write with heavy doses of romance in my fantasy stuff. Anyway, your description looked fine to me. I read it without problems and if it was in a book, I would unlikely pause.

    The only thing that did make me pause was the horrible rhyme: wildly unruly? Seriously? Please change that :D Besides, the two words together seem a bit redundant.

    Otherwise I don't think you have anything to worry about. For future reference, another way of describing character is this: show us how the character makes the other person feels. What sort of energy/presence does the person exude? Not saying you need this in this particular passage, but it's just another way of going about things if you ever needed it.
     

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