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  1. tmacc0
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    tmacc0 New Member

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    Describing Character...?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tmacc0, Jul 15, 2010.

    I am new to writing and seem to be having difficulty describing my characters physically. The character I am working on now is Charlie; he is a dog. (based on my dog actually) Him being a dog makes it a little more difficult for me and I am stuck. I wrote out a paragraph describing him generally but I don't know how to adjust it to make it better. What needs to be added or taken away? I am not sure how to show that picture of him that I am trying for. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! :D

    Here it is...

    Charlie is about 3 feet long and 2 feet high. His whole body is covered in fur, except for his eyes, nose, and the tiny footpads on his feet. His quarter-sized black nose and his skinny, charcoal mouth protrudes a few inches from the rest of his thin, furry face. His eyes are deep and black and always seem to have a mischievous sparkle about them. His legs are long and lanky and are coated in brown and white fur. His tail sprouts from his fluffy white bottom, twists up, and rests on the silky black fur of his back. His long beautiful tail fur cascades down and falls softly around his side.
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless there is something specifically different about the dog... I would just not describe the dog much at all.

    Nearly everyone knows what a Dog looks like. Such a description wouldn't even be needed at all. Now if the dog had very little fur on his entire body then it would be worth the time of describing that. As I said, almost everyone knows what a dog looks like.

    Again. We know what Dog looks like. Now if the Tail itself looked like something of a snake. Then yeah it would be worth mentioning.

    In truth. That whole paragraph could just as easily be shortened to something like 'Rex was a Golden Retriever' Or well preferably the actual breed of the dog. With that, we can already picture the dog quite clearly.

    Unless the Dog is somehow disfigured(mostly naked, its tail like a serpant, or has little horns on its head) then the description is just not needed.

    For the most part, this goes for any description of any character. Descriptions of any characters should be brief and to the point. "Jones was a large man with a stomach that hung over his waistline' (pardon the bad writing)

    Pick up some of your favorite books and read their description of characters. You will notice that alot of the time, they don't go into great detail about them and often only describe what the reader needs. The rest, they can fill in on their own.

    I hope this helps.

    If not, then I am sure someone else who is better at explaining these things will come along soon. lol
     
  3. Fantasy of You
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    Fantasy of You Banned

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    Replace example with: "Charlie is a dog." No one needs, or wants, to read much description, particularly about a dog - especially in such a superfluous manner.
     
  4. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    People know what dogs look like so he doesn't need to be described in such detail. It's a given he has fur and a nose.. etc. Tell us something we don't know. Like what kind of dog he his. How he carries himself. His personality is more important than his appearance. Appearance helps people to picture him, but personality is what bonds someone with a character.
     
  5. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I agree but also disagree with much of the above advice. I read on another thread that you were aiming this writing at kids and I am therefore guessing that Charlie is not merely a dog but rather the main character, will probably be able to talk etc. Lots of books go into detail like that. Look at the character of Major in Animal Farm:

    "He was 12 years old and had lately grown rather stout, but was still a majestic looking pig, with a wise and benevolent appearance in spite of the fact his tushes had never been cut" The book also describes the fact he is a prize Middle White boar and the name he trades under - Willingdon Beauty.

    I agree that you dont need to give the dimensions of the animal letting them figure out he is a dog. I disagree that saying "Charlie is a dog" will suffice. Tell the readers he is a dog but tell him what make him unique as a dog.
     
  6. Victorian girl
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    Victorian girl Member

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    I agree with what has been said.

    To add a bit more, I always keep my character descriptions down to a minimum. my way is that I always think height (only if relevant) hair colour, eye colour and any distinguising facial marks. The reader can make thier own mind up about the characters physical description after that using thier own imagination.

    You can also add clues instead of coming straight out with it too : i.e `Julie stood on tip toe, just about able to reach the box on top of the wardrobe`.

    Not a great example but it gives the reader the gist that she is hardly a tiny woman, but average, or perhaps just above average height.

    xx
     
  7. tmacc0
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    tmacc0 New Member

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    Thank you!

    Thank you everyone, I really appreciate the advice. I think I did go a bit overboard :redface: lol. However, it is going to be the main character so I feel I need at least some description. Maybe skip saying things like "he has fur", but still explain his coloring/texture/general body shape and things like that? Also, he is mixed breed so I am not sure if just saying his breed would work as a description, although I do think that will help. I am not sure exactly how to describe his tail either. I want the reader to know that it curls up and around kind of like a cinnamon roll, and not like the usual straight tail. Most dogs his breed get their tails cropped, so I think his tail is fairly unique.
     
  8. tmacc0
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    tmacc0 New Member

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  9. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Why not have a quick read of the opening chapters of Watership Down, Animal Farm, Charlottes Web, Tale of Despareaux, Wind in the Willows, Fantastic Mr. Fox etc.

    All these are childrens books where the main character is an animal. It would be a great way to read how they are described.
     
  10. Sonata
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    Maybe don't describe him all in one go but pepper details about his appearance in relevant places in the story.
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay, I'm taking a giant leap here and guessing this is a story about Charlie. Otherwise, there would be little logic in providing such an in-depth description of him. Is he of a specific breed? If so, as already mentioned, most people will know what the breed, generally, looks like and can extrapolate from a few words the dog's appearance.
    "Charlie is a an Australian Shepard the size of a small pony."
    Is he a mix of two breeds? Perhaps an unusual breed mix (chowpei or schnoodle or whatever)? Unless he is an unorthodox mix, either of two breeds or the ubiquitous Heinz 57 variety, there is little reason to give any sort of detailed description of him physically. Rather, you might want to consider giving more details of his behavior and psychology. And those things can be woven in over several pages rather than in an info dump.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're writing for children, you need to do your homework and study how children's books/stories for the age range you're targeting are worded... what you have there wouldn't be suitable for any age child, imo... for the reasons given above...

    keep it simple and include only those details that are important, dump all the boring anatomical data...

    also, if this is meant to be text for a picture book, keep in mind that he'll be shown, so you don't have to go so far in depicting him with words...
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In addition to the other comments, I think that "mischievous sparkle" and the description of his tail break the mood - they're a little too lofty compared to the rest of the text, and also feel a little cliched. In particular, I think that the word "beautiful" is generally a bad idea.

    I like very short descriptions myself. If I were describing this dog, I'd be inclined to go with minimal physical description and a little description of personality, like:

    "Charlie is a dog of a handy size, not too big, not too small. His floppy fur is a patchwork of colors, and his tail curls round just like a cinnamon roll. He's the kind of dog that leaps up to welcome anyone, including burglars, especially if they're willing to throw a ball or a stick."

    ChickenFreak
     
  14. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Those are good points. If there will be pictures then details only need to be minimal. If not then look at how other children's books describe animals. On the subject of his tail just say it curls. I think kids will be smart enough to figure out what that means. :p
     
  15. BlueWolf
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    BlueWolf Banned

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    I'd go along with ChickenFreak: as said, all know what a dog looks like (other than perhaps colour and size), but perhaps you could bring in mannerisms, as all dogs have their own unique personalities, and in so doing, will make the dog seem that much more real.
     
  16. tmacc0
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    tmacc0 New Member

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    Thanks everyone, good advice. I have no experience with writing and I am glad you guys are all so smart, lol. At the moment I am not really writing anything in particular just experimenting. However, I am thinking of aiming for children 8-12ish, the same age as most of the kids I care for. It will probably be a fairly short "chapter book". I believe that they can understand more words than we sometimes give them credit for. Next semester I am taking a creative writing class as well as a Child Lit class so hopefully that will help me even more. I will change it up according to your advice and post it when I am done.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    keep in mind that kids of those ages are reading the very long and involved potter series...

    take advantage of amazon's 'see inside this book' option for that age range and study the 'stats' and 'concordance' info you'll find below the publishing details and reviews... that will give you some idea of what and how you need to write for that market...
     
  18. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    That's a good idea. I didn't know the kids you were aiming this at were that old. Definitely do what Mia said. I was reading two grades ahead of my grade when I was young. Kids are definitely smarter than people give them credit for.
     
  19. dogboon
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    dogboon Member

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    If its any consolation this bit made me giggle; 'His tail sprouts from his fluffy white bottom'. Don't ask me why but it did.
     
  20. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    In one of the novels I have read a dog occupies a fairly important part, and the only description of the dog is that the writer had one of the char describing him as 'looks like a filmstar' and that was enough to give me a mental picture of the dog.
     

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