1. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    How much do I need to describe my main character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Thomas Kitchen, Feb 4, 2013.

    Forgive me for posting twice on the same day, but both questions popped into my mind almost at the same time and I think it's better to post them as seperate questions. Anyways...

    My father was reading through one of my manuscripts and he said that I don't describe my main character enough in terms of physical features, although I do describe my other main characters enough. I have his basic features mentioned (height, weight, build, hair colour, age, etc.) but I do not go into detail as I prefer reading about protagonists that I have to shape myself, at least somewhat, and this has shaped my writing style as well.

    Am I wrong in doing this? Is this merely a matter of opinion, or is it something more? Any feedback would be great.

    Thanks. :)
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    There is no rule on how much you should describe your main character. If the flow of the story demands it then you should describe more. If it doesn't affect the plot and it is not some romance story then you can describe just the bare essentials or even just insinuate them with something among the lines of:
    He stormed through the narrow corridor whose low ceiling prevented his pursuers from following him at full speed
    indicating that that character is short and slender enough to run through a low and narrow corridor without pausing and fit enough to outrun his pursuers.
     
  3. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    well as long as you are clear about his basic attributes, so that a reader can picture him some what than thats ok IMO, as long as you dont skip something worth mentioning at the beginning and the reader finds out in middle of the book that he has no left arm or something like that.
    But it also depends on your story if his physical features play a bigger role in the story, like makes him stand out in the crowd the reader will want to know what makes him different, if he walks in the room does everyone notice him if so why?

    without much more info on your story and your MC all i can say is put yourself in that story and look at him and see how others in the story see him.
     
  4. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    If you described your other main character's in detail, it may be fitting to work to describe this one in detail as well. The reader's may feel they that have a clear visual of all of the other characters, while this one is lacking something. Instead of creating new features, try describing the pre-mentioned ones more in depth. Are the character's eyes wide, small, almond shaped, brown, blue, etc? Do they have a kindness behind them, or secrets? A good way to add description to a character is to just add more details to the descriptions you've already given them.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    IMO, you should only include things that are relevant to the story and/or character somehow. Is knowing the character's weight going to make much of a difference to the reader? If the character is obese and this fact is important to the story somehow, then yes, I could see that as being a relevant thing to include. But if the guy is of average weight, I'm not sure knowing it would make any difference to the reader.

    You also don't want to spend pages and pages describing characters. Of course, how much is too much boils down to personal preference.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's really personal preference, possibly genre-dependent. I myself pay no attention to how authors describe characters, skipping over those parts. In my own writing, I don't do descriptions unless it has some pertinence to the story itself.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sue Grafton never really describes her character Kinsey Millhone in her alphabet mystery series until the twentieth novel, T is for Trespass. Even then, she is described from the perspective of her opponent, in slanted terms. All you know from earlier books is that she has brown hair, usually somewhat unkempt, and she's reasonably fit physically, but only because she forces herself to exercise. The rest is left to the reader's imagination.

    Grafton's stories are all written in first person, and her character has little case to describe herself. We read plenty of observations about the characters she encounters, but rarely much about the main character herself.

    So it's quite possible to get by with very little description of a main character. As others have said, it's a choice.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I generally only include details that are important to the story. Is my character tall enough to reach the gun on top of the bookshelf? Is he so fat the firefighters can't rescue him from the second-floor window? Does he look so young he can't get served in a bar? Is his beard so long it gets caught in a paper shredder?
     
  9. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I describe as needed.
     
  10. swifteye12
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    swifteye12 New Member

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    I agree that you need only describe the character as pertinent to the story. In Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants, he writes next to nothing about the character's physical appearances. Of course, this works so well because it fits perfectly with his writing style.

    I wouldn't worry too much about feedback saying that you need to describe the main character more--I've always liked being able to imagine for myself what characters in my favorite books look like, and it can be unusual to read a paragraph of physical description in the middle of a scene (I once encountered this, along with backstory, in the middle of an action scene. Bad timing!).

    Usually I describe characters only when the reader absolutely needs the information.
     
  11. Pale Writer
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    Pale Writer New Member

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    Hello,

    I also believe that if their attributes are needed for the story. To list off the mc's description ie telling me they have green eyes, without an attachment to why this is important, feels more of a data dump. But if his eyes are green and all those around are brown, then it has reason to be mentioned. A writer doesn't have to hold a reader's imagination in their hands, they should be allowed some freedom to exercise.
     
  12. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Tease it into the story, say things that describe him without outright saying it. Don't go bull in a china shop..... John was five foot six and had a bot belly and he had grey hair and he had a scar on his right cheek. You can use the settings and plot to describe them.

    Without warning a fist caught John in the gut, with little effect. It was times like this he was actually glad to have the small pot belly.

    The coin had rolled onto the ledge of the window and came to an abrupt stop just out of reach for Susan. "How tall are you john?" she asked "Oh I don't know about five five, five six."

    John walked down the lonely hallway by himself, his reflection serving as his only companion as he passed different mirrors of varying sizes. He stopped at the largest to inspect the golden frame and felt old as a grey hair old man stared back at him. "Dang, not looking forward to my 50th," he said running his finger down the decade old scar of his cheek.

    Perhaps a little forced but you get the idea. We are with the character for a long time and we dont need to rush his description. Some characters come and go, or there looks are vital for the scene. So you can be forgiven for explaining a lot more. But the main character, enjoy building him up. And leave some to teh readers imagination. In the example I said he had a scar on his cheek, didn't say what side, but as long as they know its there they will come to their own image.

    A way to think of it is take any main character from a novel and Google his image and see how different people interperate his image and draw it. The essence is the same but they all have differences.
     
  13. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    Don't describe the character in one big lump describe the character a little bit at a time.
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm not big on descriptions. Especially what mg357 says - the one big lump. And the others are bang-on about only describing
    what's necessary.

    It's far more important to nail the tone of your character through dialogue and actions, it's the only thing that
    will paint a clear image in the readers mind. Not the color of his eyes or style of his hair.
     

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