1. EAGLE
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    EAGLE New Member

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    Explaining how characters look.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by EAGLE, Apr 11, 2012.

    So I already have how I want my characters to look, but how do I put it into the story? Do I take a page in the beginning and explain which each of them look like, or do I just do it gradually throughout the story?

    This is something that I've thought a lot on and still don't really know what to do.
     
  2. W. E. Burrough
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    W. E. Burrough Member

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    You could do the whole explain in the beginning thing, or you could be creative about it. Your main character is going to take in how others look, of course. But as for the MC, be creative about it. Have them look in a spoon and see their reflection, something like that.
     
  3. EAGLE
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    EAGLE New Member

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    Well the MC hasn't been determined yet. (as in the story, I already know who the MC is) I think I'll go about it by explaining what they look like while they are doing something, however I like the idea of looking at people through the MC's eyes.

    The story is 3rd person btw.
     
  4. molly16
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    molly16 Member

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    A good way a lot of authors fit in character description is by having introductions scattered at the beginning, and details revealed as they become important. Work in what other characters notice, and use interactions/actions that characters do to squeeze in a detail. Blinking. Hair flipping. Wiping nose. Talking
     
  5. Berber
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    Berber Active Member

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    I would focus on first describing the looks that define character as well as appearance. Harry Potter is the only example that's really sitting on my mind right now. He's an easy target for bullies because of his small frame, but it also makes him quick. His glasses are wrapped in tape because of getting punched so often. His hair is so unruly and wild that his aunt shaved it all off one night, but this also introduces the mystical quality about him, as it all grew back that very night. And of course the scar from the "accident," the only singular thing he likes about his own appearance.

    The way a character looks can reveal a lot about who they are.
     
  6. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Personally, I'd go with dynamic descriptions and not just describing how they look. I don't know many good books I've read that concerned themselves with their characters looks unless it was important.

    Don't forget, what YOU think your characters look like isn't important to the reader because they want to identify with them in some small way, and they will use sterotypes and generalisations of people they know to fill in the blanks. Don't be too worried about it - loose descriptions aren't all bad and tight descriptions aren't all good.

    Is it important that Character A has hair down to his knees - in a fight scene possibly, as it would be a hindrance. Is it important that Character B has a small mole on the upper right side of his back - probably not UNLESS it is shaped like a map of the island of Nuambuga where the legendary.....

    Just my two cents.
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't worry about their looks unless there's some need for them to look that particular way. As a reader, I couldn't care less how the author sees them - I'll see them my own way, thank you very much. :p
     
  8. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    You should have a complete description of your characters in your mind or on paper, but only include them in the story when it fits and a little at a time. A software that-shall-not-be-named (because of forums rules), will help you keep track of this and a lot more.
     
  9. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Whatever you do, don't infodump description early on in the story. There's no time in the first scene to really describe them. And don't talk about eye color, unless it's somehow relevant to the story (like hazel-eyed people are executed). Also don't have them look in a mirror or spoon - it's tempting but extremely cliché.

    I've read a lot of books that wait until the character is well established before describing them physically, and this works really well. Maybe the third or fourth scene. If you think about it, we don't really need to know what they look like right away. I think we need to know something because height, weight, physical beauty, etc. have such an impact on how people live their lives; it's important for character development.
     
  10. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    --Don't explain, just slip it in and use them to define the uniqueness of the character.
    --One or two unique physical feature(s) of the character always better than hosts of descriptions about the character you might come up with.
    --Sometimes a gentle nudge to kick-start the readers' imaginative power is better than trying to force an image on the readers' mind.
     
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I'm totally in agreement with you, Funky. This is what I actually do - I introduce the character first, and slip in details of their appearance when they become relevant, or give away character. Like my MC, who rubs his beard when he's frustrated, or my merchant, who tugs his tunic down over his big round belly when he's nervous. Then the physical trait is associated with an aspect of their character.

    I think sometimes an appearance info dump can work - but only if its appropriate for the POV character to focus on someone in that amount of detail. For instance, when someone finally meets a character they have been anticipating meeting, or are particularly interested in. I think then you're justified in surveying the character in a bit more depth, especially if their actual appearance differs from their expectations.
     
  12. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    I'm with Jowettc and shadowwalker here. I would only ever tell the appearance of a character if it was important or if it contributed to a general picture. So-and-so has red welts on his back. That tells something about his past. But she dresses like a guy and wears her hair short and fools most people. And that tells something about her character and circumstances. Or maybe Mr. Smith will only marry a redhead because his sister was a redhead, and the heroine is a brunette. And he is really tall, which is important so that later in the book he can reach something no one else can. If you're going to tell appearance, make it important.
     
  13. EAGLE
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    EAGLE New Member

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    This is exactly what I was thinking, but I wasn't sure. I know when I read I relate characters to the people I know.


    I shall be rewriting again :p I did info dump, and it seemed weird/wrong the entire time I did it.
     
  14. RowenaFW
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    RowenaFW Member

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    Info dump is BAD.
     
  15. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    And, whatever you do, don't start the story with the character looking into a mirror admiring their firm muscles or perfect breasts.

    Unless you're writing about a narcissist, anyway (I seem to remember it worked well in the American Psycho movie, can't remember whether the book does the same).
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Write this into a word document and then copy and paste over and over until said document is the length of Atlas Shrugged.
     
  17. EAGLE
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    EAGLE New Member

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    lol Atlas Shrugged. I could never sit down and actually read that book. It's just tooooooooooo long! And boring.
     
  18. Walid
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    Walid Member

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    I think it really depends on the genre of your story.

    I mean if it was a noir-like story being told, then perhaps have the character see himself in the reflection of water on the street, or better yet, a puddle of blood in a crime scene.

    Okay, maybe I went too far in the last bit, but I guess you get the gist of it. My problem with character description is that nearly all of my short stories LACK character looks, I just let the reader imagine themselves instead. This would probably not work given a longer story.
     
  19. J.D. Rand
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    If it hasn't already been overstated: Infodump is bad.

    As a reader, whenever I form a mental picture of a certain character, it is usually dictated by their behavior and actions, coupled with the (most likely minimal) description of said character that the author has provided.

    Also, when you've got an 8-foot gunslinger wearing a trench coat and a ten-gallon hat, that's the first thing the other characters are going to notice. It usually comes somewhere later on, when you notice that he has a gaunt, age-lined face and steel gray eyes - probably because you just pissed him off and he's glaring daggers at you. He doesn't say anything, but you just know from the look on his face that he's one step away from grabbing you by the neck and tossing you through a window...
     
  20. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Infodump is USUALLY bad, but not always. Like most tools in writing, it works really well in certain situations. However, it is a difficult tool to use, and so most new writers use it incorrectly. It's best to advise new writers to use it with great caution, avoiding it whenever possible.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but I must disagree. Infodump is, by definition, bad. Exposition in bulk is not always bad, but when it becomes excessive or poorly placed, it becomes an infodump.

    It's like purple prose. Flowery description is not always bad, but when it becomes excessive and indulgent, it becomes purple prose,

    In other words, the excess is part of the definition. Both infodumps and purple prose are bad, by definition.

    One of our members, Terry Ervin III, wrote a short story, Vegetable Matters. In it, one of the two main characters relates an extensive story to the other, to bring him up to the current moment. But the way Ervin manages that tale, with interruptions at key points, holds the reader's interest. Exposition, not infodump.
     
  22. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Agreed.
     
  23. live2write
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    This is a very tricky wall to break through with writing. To tell you the truth I have read stories where there was an info dump in the beginning of the story because it was relevant to the scene. In one of my stories I use a signification amount of detail for appearance because the character is getting ready for a party. I needed the detail to put the reader in the scene and the shoes of the MC.

    What you need to do is list your character's appearance and traits down and pick the most significant ones that separates the character(s) from the rest. Choose only the ones that give a clear definition. One character can be described as being the shortest one of the group or one with a scar on the lip. Another can be bright red hair and doll like features. Keep it simple and straight forward.
     
  24. Mordred
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    Mordred Member

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    George R. R. Martin's description of a character in A Dance With Dragons, when first introducing him, was *VERY* long, drawn out and quite painful to read. In one part of the book he took two large paragraphs and simply listed everything in order starting with his hair and working down to his feet. This type of description pulls you out of a story through sheer boredom.

    I find working a characters description through a scene works better than just simply listing their attributes in a 'chunk' paragraph. Having your main character notice that the person he/she is talking to is slovenly and sweating so much the gruel isn't sticking to the outside of his lips, but running from the side of his mouth over the fat folds of his neck and down inside his red velvet shirt. Did you just picture this person I described? Toss in 'torn ragged shirt' or 'hard woven sleeveless tunic" instead of red velvet. Creates a different picture. I do like to leave some of it up to the readers imagination as to what a character might look like. Sometimes less is more.

    Just a few stray thoughts from a puerile brain floating in a vat of netherfluid....

    ~Mordred
     
  25. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I agree with that. I also think it depends on your definition on "infodump," as that can vary depending on who you talk to. Some best-selling published authors (e.g. Brandon Sanderson) often use "infodump" to mean unusually large sections of exposition/backstory. That's what I was referring to.

    I think your definition is cleaner, but it isn't the only definition.
     

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