1. Sapphire
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    Sapphire Senior Member

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    How much detail

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sapphire, Nov 14, 2006.

    How much detail do you put into character descriptions? I'm a person who likes to picture the person very thoroughly in the story so I write my descriptions of the person in like two big paragraphs. Is this a bad thing?
     
  2. Frost
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    Frost Contributing Member

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    Nope. I do it too. It depends in the context though; if your midway through a tense or suspensful scene, then a two paragraph description is perhaps not the best idea. But if it's a lower point and the character is significant, then sure why not.
     
  3. zerobytes
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    zerobytes Contributing Member

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    Agreed. You can take the time that you want to make your character as detailed as you want (Victor Hugo sometimes took 50+ pages for minor characters - but I don't recommend that.) A few good things to look at are the length of the piece, the moment of introduction (as explained by Frost), and the importance of the character to the story. Another thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to describe the entire character in one instance. You can spread the character discription throughout the piece - especially if another character takes a special interest in them ;) . As for their initial introduction I think a paragraph or two is just fine for a main character - perhaps one for physical appearance and one for experience and other mental/spiritual qualities.

    zb
     
  4. Aurorah
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    Aurorah Member

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    I tend to let a character's personality show itself through their actions, thoughts and feelings and how they behave towards other characters rather than giving long descriptions of them. Show rather then tell is the key here, especially in a short story where there is less scope for development. However, adding in some "telling" details would be fine as long as it's not too overdone. It's all about getting the balance right!
     
  5. Sapphire
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    Sapphire Senior Member

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    Okay, I get what all of you are saying. But my scene right now that I'm trying to work at right now is that the main character is just sitting peacefully by a stream and he's leaning against a tree. Nothing actiony is happening...it's just very peaceful and he's resting. Is that a time where I can do big descriptions?
     
  6. Aurorah
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    Aurorah Member

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    As he is resting you could have him reflecting on things that have happened in the past. This would give the reader an insight into his thoughts and thus providing details on what sort of person he is and perhaps how he relates to other characters in the story. You could also provide some physical details here too... Good luck with the descriptions!
     
  7. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    I try to give more detail on who the character is rather than their appearance.
     
  8. chase42
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    chase42 Member

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    +1. I focus much more on personality and only cover basic of physical appearance. Frankly, it doesnt matter much what the character looks like, but being able to explain the reasons for the way they behave is much more important. The exceptions are when a character is physically imposing or has a characteristic that is important later in the text.
     
  9. Spherical Time
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    Spherical Time Contributing Member

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    How dearly I dislike him. The Hunchback of Notre Dam is the first book I can think of that I simply could not read. I still have an animated way of describing how each building in a street was described, and then we'd move to the next street, and the next . . .

    Good advice. I try to do this, because I think it seems very professional.

    I would also personally recommend using description during action. For example:

    Joseph fell down on the old chair, his calloused hand still gripping the handle of the axe. So he hadn't been able to bring himself to do it after all.

    Sara came into the room, her warm, midnight eyes troubled. It was the axe, but he didn't try to hide it. She brushed a few strands of her dark hair from her eyes, and came over to him without speaking.

    She put her hand on his arm, drawing her smooth olive skin along his wheat colored skin until somehow she was holding the axe. Against the blue hatch of her apron, the dull red of the axe looked bloody, and he had to turn away.​

    You know, that sounds suspiciously like a Romance Novel. Zounds, that's not good.
     
  10. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    In my opinion, physical description is only needed when relevant or beneficial to the story.
     
  11. Robert
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    Robert Banned

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    Yes, it's a bad thing. Can you post some writing as an example?
     
  12. blondeangel
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    blondeangel Member

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    Well sapphire it is good that you can describe your character so well, it shows that you know them. Maybe in the beginning you could give a quick run down of the character, a small description, I mean further along in a story you may get a chance to tell a bit more about your characters description anyway.
     
  13. Ferret
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    Ferret Contributing Member

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    I wouldnt say that's bad...just another stlye of writng.
    Depending on how long the character s going to be use, that can be quite useful...never having to go through the process agian just reinforcing whats already been said.
    Personally I just spend about two sentences describing the character and start working on their personalities... but hey I'm not going to tell you what to do...
     
  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Give enough information that the reader can form their own image of the character. A few features can go a long way.

    Use comparisons to other characters for age, height, things like that.

    Their job/career/hobbies will say a lot to a reader. Their dress, their personalities, and how other characters respond to them add into this. A proper name for a character will guide the reader as well.

    Will every reader come away with the exact same image? No. Nevertheless, they will come away with your character.

    If you give too much information, if you're too detailed, you risk trying to control the reader and the reader's imagination. In most instances, this is not a good thing.

    Just another opinion.

    Terry
     
  15. Sf Gr3y
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    Sf Gr3y Member

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    Nope

    No worries, I do the same thing.
     
  16. Sapphire
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    Sapphire Senior Member

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    Yeah, I've been taught to do use a lot of descriptive things in your writing but I sometimes get out of hand on it and I start telling about his looks and clothes rather than his personality. That's something I need to work on so I'm kind of nervous about doing this.
     
  17. Torpeh
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    Torpeh Member

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    I am always told that I over-describe, but that doesn't particularly bother me: I have had comments praising my description, too. A lot of it comes to personal preference, I think.

    When I look at a narrative, I am more interested in the way description is constructed rather than the actual amount. I could read a beautifully-constructed extended metaphor for pages quite happily, but I would quickly grow tired of colourless adjectives after repeated adverbs after needless comparatives.

    Composition is also important, as far as I am concerned: a description contained witin the confines of a simple sentence I would consider poor, but a description saying exactly the same thing but with the use of complex sentences I would find more interesting.

    I certainly do not advocate describing in paragraphs at the character's introduction then leaving out all modifiers relating to that character afterwards. It might be an idea to use a compound metaphor, which allows the reader to explore connotations about the character, then expand to the physical elements when they are brought into use. For example, if Mr Example stroked a dog, you might describe what his hand looks like, and when he sighs, you might describe his face.
     
  18. Sf Gr3y
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    Sf Gr3y Member

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    Your grasp of grammar and writing in general never ceases to amaze me Harry. :eek:
     
  19. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    i really like to expand on a charector and tend to spend a lot of time describing them too, although i only tend to do it with main charectors. i also like to let the reader gather information about the charector without actually saying it, if you get what i mean.
     
  20. Feline
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    Feline New Member

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    I don't think it's a bad thing at all. As an artist, I like to paint a picture in the reader's mind, whether it be of the atmosphere or the character.
    And as a reader I enjoy reading the details of a character's physical appearance. It helps the reader to form a clearer image once all the details are put together.
    But I don't believe you have to cram it all into a paragraph. I think you can sprinkle the details in various sentences through-out the story. But the basics should be covered upon the character's introduction so that the reader doesn't already have him/her made up as a brunette when he/she is revealed to later be a blond- or something of that nature. :)
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    As in everything, it's a balance.

    Have you ever listened to the old radio serials? These were stories told over the airwaves, and most of the details were supplied by the imagination of the listener, with a few hints in the narrative.

    Then came television. Suddenly, you knew exactly what each character looked like, although color came a bit later. Imagination took a huge kick below the belt.

    There's a certain charm in going back to the radio serials, because when the dashing young man or lovely but duplicitous heiress entered the scene, you customized her appearance to what those descriptions mean to you.

    The same applies to describing a character in a book. You want to form a vivid picture in the reader's mind, but you may not wish to overly constrain that image. In a short story I wrote here, the only details I supplied about a mysterious woman was that she had short dark hair (making her distinctly different from the red-haired dead wife) and intensely blue eyes. And both of those attributes were an integral part of the story's climax. The central character was not described at all - everything was seen through his eyes anyway.

    But I suspect that every person who reads that story will have a clear mind picture of the woman, and that she looks different, and mysterious, and alluring, for each reader.

    These were deliberate choices I made when writing the story. For a longer version of the same story, or for a different plotline, I might make different choices.

    One thing I would never do is dump a complete description on the reader at once. People remember a small number of details far better than a longer list of them. So provide the most important features first, and let them stick in the reader's mind. Then add a couple more details, and give the reader time to incorporate them into the image.

    That goes across the board, not just for character descriptions.
     
  22. bluejt2000
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    bluejt2000 Member

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    Novels thrive on conflict and action yet here you have a character sitting doing nothing with nothing going on around him while you dump information on the reader. Static scenes are boring.

    And why use lots of physical description anyhow? Do you think a reader will remember all that detail a couple of chapters further on - assuming he or she hasn't skipped the passage?

    Moreover, whereabouts in the novel are you when you give this information? If it's a chapter or two into the story the reader will have already visualised the character and he or she will have to revise their mental image - and they won't thank you for making them do it.

    Keep physical descriptions down to a minimum and get them in early in the novel.

    As regards background information, try breaking it up and dropping it in here and there naturally as part of the action or dialogue.

    And try to take shortcuts with it. Here's a classic example from the film Alcatraz: a psychologist asks Clint Eastwood's character about his childhood and Eastwood simply replies, "What childhood?" The scriptwriter didn't feel the need to spend the equivalent of paragraphs of writing having the character describe his deprived upbringing here - two words did it all. Note the conflict present in Eastwood's attitude towards the psychologist too - which also tells us something about him as he is now. Brilliant stuff!

    John
     
  23. lawliet
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    lawliet New Member

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    I agree with that. Even if I have a complete picture of how a character looks in my head, if it is not essential to the story for the reader to have the very same picture, I leave the description out.

    Something that really bugs me when it comes to description is that some people tend to forget pov and logic when they start to describe their characters.

    If the pov character has blue eyes (and that fact is important), but there is no one in the scene to notice it and no mirror (uh, please don’t…) or other reason why the pov character should be thinking about his own eye colour - then the description should not be part of that scene.

    Just my opinion of cause :)
     
  24. Funny Bunny
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    I also describe in small chunks. I don't do laundry list descriptions unless it is of a Room. I tend to write gloomy modern noir/ psychological thrillers about dissipation and struggle against inner daemons, and madmen, etc., so description is really key to mood, but I try not to get too specific because I guess one of the fun parts of reading is the ability to create the character in the reader's mind. I just give general guidelines and if needed physical complications. Oh, as to what the character(s) think of themselves, I think they are either okay with what they look like, or possibly a bit neurotic, thinking they might not be good enough. Personal attitude is very important to "what" a person looks like. Someone who is self loathing and has a bad attitude looks different from someone who feels good, is cool with his/her looks. In the book I am writing now, intimidation is a key element to the plot. It is important for the characters in some scenes to try to get others to back down. There is a lot of body language and so on. One or more characters will deliberately try to bully someone to back down without resorting to physical contact. This has a particular "look" as well. What a person is doing in a scene also makes an impact on what he/she looks like. I tend to dwell on these descriptions. If someone has been running through the woods trying to flee for his/her life, and is all cut up by branches, and is sweaty and dirty and has skinned knees and walks with a wobble because he or she is tired and on the verge of fainting, that's the most powerful description, not whether he or she has blue eyes or brown or is wearing a blue shirt of a green one.
     

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