1. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    How soon to describe a the MC?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by MissRis, Apr 27, 2012.

    My story is a YA fiction written in first-person narration. How early do you generally describe the MC? Does it matter? Can it be a few chapters before you get a general idea?

    The main reason I ask is that the fist couple of chapters are action-packed (escaping a burning building, finding our her parents have died, etc.) and it's not until the 3rd chapter that there's room in the narration to give a general explanation of what she looks like. The first chapter covers her age and gender through dialogue between a fire fighter and a paramedic and we also learn her first name. Other than that, we don't get character attributes until the 3rd or 4th chapter and even then it's kind of vague (long brown hair and boring brown eyes [she's talking in comparison to her best friend who is green eyed and auburn hair]) other than her thinking she's "freakishly tall" again in comparison to her best friend who is petite and fine boned. The height is important to the story because she finds out she is a descendant of an Amazon race.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Leia
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    Leia Member

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    I tend to leave mine vague, letting the reader draw their own picture. If you're writing in First Person, I'd leave out the self description except to only a bare minimum. How often a day do you tally your looks in an inner monologue? I don't, ever. If the character wants to comb the ash out of her brown hair, though, that could work.
     
  3. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    Sounds like you're doing it the right way, leaving tidbits of information in an organic way. For a first-person narrative, it's imperative that you don't blow the believability of the narrative voice through forcing details into the prose. Oh, and never do the mirror conversation! Just drop a few more details as you go along, but there's no problem with keeping physical characteristics to a minimum: focus on the internal part of the character.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Remember that your readers have imaginations, too. They'll picture your characters the way they want no matter what you say. You don't need to over-describe anybody or anything. They'll get it. She's "freakishly tall" because she's an Amazon? Just mention that. Tell the reader what's important to the story.

    I know you have a complete mental picture of what your MC looks like, but you don't have to lovingly describe every last detail. Whatever you write, your reader will still get a different picture. Let your reader imagine.
     
  5. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I concur with what others have said. Just introduce bits of information here and there in a natural way. Nobody describes themselves to themselves so your narrator shouldn't either.
     
  6. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    Okay good! Thanks for the confirmation. I was just reading some other threads where people said something to the effect of, if you don't describe your characters within the first few chapters blahdy blah blah...

    @Minstrel -- Yeah, she gets dragged into the Amazon world where everyone is "freakishly tall" like her (or taller) That's essentially the only distinguishing feature about her.
     
  7. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Gender, age, name are important things which you should communicate with the readers immediately, sooner the better. As a reader I won't care about the hair color or the eye color of a character who is escaping from a burning building.
     
  8. marcuslam
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    marcuslam Senior Member

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    It sounds like you want to go about it in a natural way. That's really the best method. When escaping a burning building, the protagonist certainly has more important things to think about than her looks!
     
  9. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Personally, I think gender (in most cases) and age will be obvious how the narrative is written. I don't think the gender and age should be literally stated. That's just my opinion though.
     
  10. Joey Batz
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    Joey Batz Member

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    Like someone else said, do it in an organic way. Perhaps the character's small, agile frame allowed her to move quickly through the burning building, her long blonde hair constantly in danger of catching fire because it wasn't tied back. Something like that. Just make sure if your character's looks ever come into play, that you give a description of your characters as early as possible.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is rarely a good way for a first person narrative to self-describe, unless the character is insufferably vain. Most people simply do not think of their own appearance in descriptive terms.

    I might look in the mirror and think, "I need a haircut." I won't think, "My curly, brown, shoulder-length hair needs a trim." I might think, "I need to lay off the pizza for a while." I might even look at the bathroom scale and wince. "Two hundred three pounds? Forget about pancakes, I'll stick to a slice of toast this morning." I won't think, ?My six foot frame is starting to look a bit thick around the middle."

    Whenever you are tempted to insert a description, think. Would this character think or say this? If you're looking at someone you've never met before, you might appraise their appearance item by item. That won;t happen if its someone you see every day. And your guy character may be more likely to notice the new girl's breast size than her eye color - the choice of what to describe is even an opportunity to say something about the observer's character.

    Always keep description in character with the observer.
     
  12. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    This is fantastic advice and I will certainly keep it in mind. My thing is, she's very conscious of her height and her best friend happens to be extremely petite so she's often internally complaining about how she hates standing next to her. Also, the character is a teenaged girl - so I feel like she would be more critical of her own and other people's physical attributes.
     

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