1. Lilah Jae
    Offline

    Lilah Jae New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0

    Describing in the third person

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lilah Jae, Dec 21, 2009.

    How would you go about describing someone using the third person view? I've done a quick description in a story I'm writing and it doesn't seem right. Any ideas? Examples?
     
  2. The-Joker
    Offline

    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2008
    Messages:
    742
    Likes Received:
    35
    Location:
    Africa
    Do you mean the Point of view character or just the characters in general?

    For the POV, there's always the mirror option, though that's a huge cliche. I think it's best to work the description into your story, because in 3rd person limited, the chances are your character is not going to be thinking abouth the colour of his eyes or length of his hair at the start of the story. You just need an instance that would draw the character's attention to his features. But remember you can usually get by with just describing one or two physical attributes. The reader can always imagine the rest.
     
  3. Lilah Jae
    Offline

    Lilah Jae New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Description for me is a big deal, especially when it comes to the looks of the characters. By the time I have the plot, I already know what the characters look like and that's what I want to try and get the reader to see as well.

    I feel like something's missing when I just skip over description. However, this is always the issue when I try to write in the third person. Descriptions become difficult and the way I describe actions as well become trite and I end up writing the story in first person. I feel its important to try and write in the third person so I'm trying to overcome this.

    I always try to get another character in the scene to draw attention to a feature (such as hair, by having them brush it from the other character's face) or eyes (if they were striking, by having the other insult their eyes out of jealousy, and eyes are usually a big deal to me so I tend to focus on them)

    But it never turns out right for me in third person.
     
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    This blog entry may help: What's Your Point (of View)?
     
  5. Lilah Jae
    Offline

    Lilah Jae New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    I did read that entry even before the post, but it didn't do much good since it's more about staying in points of view and issues of tense and format in regard to PoV rather than the descriptive part. Thanks though :3
     
  6. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    But that's the point. What you describe must be consistent with the POV you are describing from.
     
  7. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,885
    Likes Received:
    10,069
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    An example? Ok, here's one from a story I started and never finished:

    Now, I'm not usually one to get hung up in the visual description of characters, but this story is an... adult story where visuals are important. Even in tis story, the description itself is important in and of itself because it is part of the creation of one of the character's background. That of mysteriously wealthy off world semi-alien. Otherwise, I would not have gone to the trouble of describing getting dressed.

    Notice that in the description I try my best to make the scene move, to keep it active. A simple list of he looks like this, and the other guy looks like that is yawn-fodder.
     
  8. bluebell80
    Offline

    bluebell80 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2009
    Messages:
    636
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    Vermont
    I perfer scant character description. I like to use my imagination as to what the person looks like, than having the author give me an info dump of the exact way a person looks. I like just a few descriptors like a character fixing their hair (length/texture/maybe color,) how they dress and their physical size, and maybe the color of the skin. The rest of their features can be left fuzzy for my imagination to take over.

    I always find myself disappointed when I watch a movie of a book I've read and the actor just doesn't fit the indepth description the writer gave me. Like Time Traveler's Wife. I do think they picked a pretty good person for Claire, but Eric Bana was not who I would have seen as Henry...Henry should have been more like David Duchovney, or some other wirey type of man who is thin and athletic, yet nerdy at the same time, while retaining some rugged attractiveness.

    On the flip side, the book I just finished, John Dies at the End, the author actually gives very little discription for the two main character's David and John. All we get are tid-bits of what they look like so that we can use our imagination to build their physical appearence. But, the author gives us a pretty good description of a supporting character named Amy, red hair, small body frame, attractive, missing a hand...But nothing super concrete as far as facial features.

    Sometimes less is more. There is a fine line between too much description/info dumps, and not enough. It's like a Goldielocks zone of character description. You just have to play with it until you find that zone.

    As far as doing it in third person, the mirror should really not be used, unless you have a real valid reason for using it, like the character is inserting their contact lenses in the morning (something we will know through the story and may come into play later -- like the character loses a contact and can't see!) or like:

    Mary put on yet another outfit and did a twirl in the mirror. Irritation came over her as she tried to smooth the bulge of material that kept creeping out around her middle. None of her clothes fit anymore. She was used to never having a problem with clothing fitting her long, lean frame, but with the growing bump in her belly she was finding more issues with it each day. Swollen ankles and feet messed with her shoe choices, swelling breasts popped the buttons off her blouses, and everything was growing tight. Her plump lips tightened into a straight line as she sighed heavily and pulled her suit jacket on. "Ugh." She couldn't even button that. Her hands fell to her sides as she examined her lumpy body in the mirror. Everyone's going to know now. She brushed a stray strand of brown hair behind her ear and smoothed down the other little flyaways back into the bun.

    Mind you this is just slapped together and probably horrible, but it's just an example of character description in third person (so please don't jump on me for it being bad.) Frankly, I don't normally write third person, so it's probably pretty bad. But, you can use a mirror if it works in the story. A pregnant professional trying to hid her pregnancy from her bosses for as long as possible, while at the same time giving the reader a character description.
     
  9. fandango
    Offline

    fandango Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    I'd agree with bluebell80, why bother? The questions I'd ask is what purpose does physical descriptions of the characters serve? Is it integral to the story? If it is, it should become fairly obvious how and when to describe them. If it's not, will a description end up detracting from the flow?

    I think I may be coloured by a dreadful novel self-published by an ex work colleague which, within the first 3 pages, had introduced each of the main protagonists via a thorough physical description of each of them.
     
  10. Sound of Silence
    Offline

    Sound of Silence Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Close to madness
    I have to admit that I like to visualise my own characters when I'm reading. Reader interaction is a big part of keeping your reader interested. If you're explicit with everything (blue eyes, brown hair, toned body) you can kill their interest in your words, they'll be left with a 'so what am I supposed to think about this guy? The author's done it all for me.'

    Sometimes it's best when you're describing your main mc in thrid pov to give hints with what's around him (use his surroundings) or in what other people say.
     
  11. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    I wonder if the problem is that you're wanting to convey your entire imagination of your characters' physical appearances. If so, this quote by Stephen King may be helpful: "Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's." In other words, just give bits, but not the whole image; let the readers fill in the missing parts and complete the images of the characters in their minds. It will actually make for a way more fulfilling reading experience than if every bit of detail is being fed to the reader.
     
  12. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    check out how it's done by successful writers... that will give you plenty of ways to do it for your own characters... by trying out the various methods, you should soon be able to find your own 'voice'...
     
  13. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Joker's right

    You don't need to give your reader more then one or two characteristics. I'm on the final copy/rewrite of my novel and the only characteristics that the reader has of Kate is: raven-colored hair, blue eyes and in her early twenties. They can piece the rest together into a picture they want. The motto "less is more" fits in here...
     
  14. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Mom's right too

    See how the author's in your genre "do it." That will give you better insight into how you want to portray your character. Although, I still subscribe to the less is more philosophy.
     
  15. Lilah Jae
    Offline

    Lilah Jae New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Wow um... I forgot to check this :3 Lots of answers! Erm...

    Cog, I don't have much issue staying in PoV while writing anything, including descriptions. It's keeping the description showing rather than telling so it doesn't become a bother.

    I agree with keeping the options open and descriptive work with the readers, but I also feel I should nudge them in the direction of how I see them. Plus, with all the books-turned-movies, most of them have terrible actors that looked nothing like characters I envisioned. Even with the Twilight Saga (eeuuughhh) There wasn't much description there, but they still didn't turn out how I'd hoped in the movie.

    I did decide to leave options open and not overload the reader like I had with other stories of mine, but I'm having a mental hang-up with clothes. Since battle gear and clothing is important with exposed skin possibly meaning death on the battlefield, I'm still thinking to give light to what they're wearing.

    Clothing isn't hard for me to decide where and when to describe it, especially since one of the first things (by instinct) they would do is look their opponents over and determine weak-points--like lack of a bullet-proof vest, blah blah.

    Thanks guys. Any more input?
     
  16. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Staying within the POV is more than only describing what that character is able to see. It is also describing only what that character will notice.

    A guy may be able to see that the girl he is out to dinner with, the girl he as been seeing for a month now, has sea green eyes. But if she suddenly covers her eyes and asks him what color her eyes are, odds are he will be left alone in the restaurant with the bill for two dinners, and no date.

    Don't describe what your POV character won't notice.
     
  17. Lilah Jae
    Offline

    Lilah Jae New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    D: This is not mentioned in that article. It would be immensely helpful to a lot of people if you added that little note in!
     
  18. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Good point. I wrote that article a year and a half ago, I should amend it.

    EDIT: I updated it. I could have sworn I had said something about that. I certainly have said it enough times. :)

    Thanks!
     
  19. Lilah Jae
    Offline

    Lilah Jae New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yes! And I also noticed a few typos in the Mechanics of Dialogue article.
     

Share This Page