1. missupernatural
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    missupernatural Member

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    How To Describe A Character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by missupernatural, Dec 29, 2007.

    It's all very well to say "...his bright blue eyes twinkled beneath his brown hair" in third person.

    But my question is, what are some ways to give the reader an idea of the characters physical appearence when you're writing in first person POV?

    As in, describing the character you're writing as. Oh, and especially when they're not the type of character to be staring in a mirror examining all the little things about there appearence: a.k.a. a guy. :confused:
     
  2. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    They would need a reason to get onto that train of thought. I think the easiest would be examining the reasons behind someone else's reaction to them; if they have a striking appearance (attractive or otherwise), people are bound to react to it, even in little ways. When the character sees another character react, just have them consider why they provoked that reaction. That could easily include a physical description.
     
  3. missupernatural
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    missupernatural Member

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    I suppose, but to me that would sound un believable and forced.

    In real life when we say something that causes a reaction in another person, we don't suddenly assess the fact we have brown hair as the cause for it.

    I suppose that would suit the character I'm trying to write about, either.

    But I can see where you're coming from, definitly.
     
  4. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Personally, I don't give descriptions of viewpoint characters- I swap the view to another character and let them describe the first. Or, you can start out by sweeping in towards the character from a height- giving a rough description and then settling in behind their eyes. Either of those two could help.
     
  5. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I usually let the first person describe himself and everyone else. For example in the first novel I wrote, he described himnself as he recalled painful memories through his childhood picture. At other times characters praised his beauty throguh his basic features. You could always use a mirror as a description for the viewpoint person. Like 'My golden locks jumped as I made my way to the dressing table. In a brief glance came to me a vivacious face which I believe was my own." etc etc. Hope I helped.
     
  6. missupernatural
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    missupernatural Member

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    Yeah. Everyone's ideas have helped. I think B-Gas' idea of "sweeping" would best suit what I'm writing, as the very start lacks an "introduction" of sorts.

    Have to keep it in mind when I go to re write my first chapter. =)
     
  7. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all, I know loads of guys that stnad and admire themselves in a mirror. And he doesn't have to be standing there for ages, something like he was washing his face and his blue eyes stared from the mirror. Or he could see a flash of his body in a window he passes or something. Just little subtle hints that slowly build up a picture of him if you don't want to outright describe him.
     
  8. missupernatural
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    missupernatural Member

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    It's a good idea, but honestly, it's a cliched and over used technique.

    I want something fresh.
     
  9. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    Water works as well as a mirror, but also sometimes it doesn't matter, especially in first person. Though, you could always have something like, "I'm <yournamehere>, I'm 5'9" I have brown hair and blue eyes" but that only works if it's one of those Narrated first person stories instead of one of those stuckintheirhead stories.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is also the critical look at a driver's license, taxicab id, or Wanted poster.
     
  11. missupernatural
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    missupernatural Member

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    That too. A little more original than a shiny surface.
     
  12. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Another good method, mentioned previously but not in much detail, is to describe a) the people around him and b) how he is different. I read a good book about medieval China in which we could guess that the MC was Chinese (black straight hair, brown eyes) and he had to write down his discription for an exam, in which he wrote "Tall, thin, mole on left wrist." Other description came from contrast with his short, athletic brother and the clothing he wore.

    If your main character is, for example, a soldier in the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War, you could have your character drop in little bits of description as he describes his companions: "Thomas Thorne had the same muttonchop mustache that I had, the same sandy hair, but he also had an ability to catch a girl's attention - something that, for all our superficial similarities, I proved to be sorely lacking, to my annoyance and the boys' perpetual amusement." "By the time our company broke camp, my lips were cracked. Everything was covered in dust, a thick layer that colored my clothing and skin an unnatural fawn color and made Hank and me look almost like twins." (Here you can mention, before or after, that Hank was unusually pale from an indoor job or unusually swarthy from working all day in an especially sunny state.)
     
  13. Lengo
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    Lengo Member

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    Um. I'm not sure I understand the question. Do you need a physical description of a character, written in first person? Why? Why not explain his actions, such as

    "I tossed my head back in bewilderment. I wondered if my unkempt hair made me look as confused as I felt."

    You don't need hair color. You don't need the color of his eyes. You can go on to explain why his hair is a little disheveled, adding more depth to the scene or the person's basic personality traits, but you don't really need to know more than necessary.

    You can further describe your main character by another's dialogue with him. "My! You look rather handsome today, dressed in your new suit. Are you out on business, or trying to attract some fine lady you met recently?"

    Don't be didactic about describing your character. You need very little information. Most often, less is more. Let the reader paint his own picture. "I think that blue shirt goes nicely with your eyes. Now, go out there and get them!"
     
  14. Iulia
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    Iulia New Member

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    I'm really into eyes. I could go on for pages about eyes, (I try not to, though) and I do find it nice to know what the writer had in mind for the person's looks. You could have someone else describe these things. Your character could overhear, or the person could say it to their face. ie:
    "What are you staring at?" I asked, becoming a little self-consious.
    "You have great eyes. They're kind of like . . . emerald. Or snakeskin." She replied, almost dreamily. I laughed to myself - that was just like her.
     
  15. Iulia
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    Iulia New Member

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    sorry, didn't mean to post twice. I know I may have done that lately but this computer is whack.
     
  16. Milamber
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    Milamber Member

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    OR you could just NOT describe the character at all. Sometimes it's best just to give an outline(hair colour, eyes or any other prominent feature) and let the reader put his own face where the main character's should be.
    I don't think apearance matters that much, unless it has a chunky role in the story. then it's best to put it in there early so that the reader can get a solid image before he/she goes and makes something random up... (one time i read five chapters of a book before realising the main character was a black guy, it took me ages to stop seeing him with pale skin...)

    And on HOW to do a good description... well i've got no ideas there... everyone else seems to have summed it up pretty well...
     
  17. ecanusia16
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    ecanusia16 Member

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    I guess it's all situational. If you're writing POV and the guy isn't really fussy with his looks, make another object/person interact with the body part. You can also drop hints throughout the story. Who says you have to bombard your readers with an in-depth description in one chunk?
     
  18. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    I think that too, and usually that is how I tend to describe my characters.
    But there can be a downside to that: if at page 5 I say that Mr.X is tall and wears glasses, it is natural for the reader to fill in the gaps and try to visualize some more details and continue to see him that way through the following pages. Then, if at page 10 I say that the character is overweight, the reader could be disappointed cause they had time to build up the whole figure and their picture is (too) different from what you, author, have in mind. IMO, that can have the power to alienate the reader's affection for that character.

    Maybe one could choose a different description method for main and secundary characters (more detailed for the people you're going to spend more time with).
     
  19. deadsoul
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    deadsoul New Member

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    When I asked a question similar to yours, some people told me that I don't really have to describe every inch of the character. Sometimes, you don't even have to tell the color of the hair. But if you want to tell everything, don't throw them all in one place. For example, when she brushes her hair, you tell us what its color. When she's kinda angry or staring at someone, you tell us her eyes color. And so on.

    You know how in 'Eragon', he was blonde? Well, I didn't really imagine Eragon as a blonde guy! I didn't even see the necessity for the author to tell me how I should imagine the characters if the way they looked wasn't very important to the plot (Of course, sometimes it's very relevant. SO, you just have to have a good eye there)
     
  20. Aiko_Ukai
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    Aiko_Ukai New Member

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    Maybe you could have another character write a love letter to the main character describing everything that they loved about them. Or you could mention an old picture that they found of themselves and how much they believe they have changed. You can always have the charcter have an issue with a physical feature... These are just a few suggestions that I could think up in a few minutes.
     
  21. DavidGil
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    DavidGil Senior Member

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    I'm not experienced with 1st person writing, having only ever wrote one single 500 word short story with it.

    But in my mind, there's two best ways to give the PoV character a decription. Like others have said, you can rely on other's reactions to them. Or examine the PoV character's own thought processes.

    The second thing you can do is sprinkle in the odd passage such as: I flexed my thin, weak arm.

    It's not the best example or anything, but hopefully you get the idea. Maybe after you've wrote something like the above, you can say the character didn't want to be skinny.
     
  22. PHRiQUE
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    PHRiQUE New Member

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    Definitely always a challenge.

    Perhaps comparisons--so it doesn't seem as much like a list of physical attributes. Like "My hair was a hopeless, tangled mess. It looked almost exactly like a rats nest, all brown and clumped and dry." Or "The reddish eyeshadow brought out the most vibrant blue in my eyes."/"I wore the reddish eyeshadow that brought out the blue in my eyes." And "I fretted over how pasty I looked that day. I knew I couldn't tan--didn't want to--but looking like I belong in a little kid-safe bottle of Elmer's wasn't quite my cup of tea, either." And in similar ways, fretting about weight and height and clothing choices. There are ways to incorporate that into any given character (although it probably is easier with female drama queens or some such. :p).

    Or other people commenting. I weaseled in not only a characters hair type, color, and length, but what it once was and a bit of the character's mindset/personality/changes, by simply having an ex comment on it like, "What happened to those gorgeous ebony curls I was so fond of, hm?" ... "I cut it. Easier to manage."

    These two are the best methods I've found. They work for me. Just my 2c. :)
     
  23. pippin1710
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    pippin1710 Member

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    describing it through action is also a way i use e.g. would be he hit his on the top of the bunk bed or gaining speed as his long legs pounded the hard cement of the floor.
     
  24. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Yeah, I prefer if the reader develops an impression through the character's behaviour. Not saying I don't describe, or allow description through dialogue, it's just that I prefer not to.
     
  25. Amor
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    Amor Member

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    I'm not really used to writing in first person, but...maybe you could say something as simple as "I pushed my brown hair back behind my ear", or to extend it (although you'd have to make it sound better than how I'm quickly putting it), "I pushed my brown hair back behind my ear, because it was stabbing at my bright blue eyes". This is a bad example, but I hope that you get the idea. However, you probably don't want to start dumping too much information on that character in a small amount of space. You could also have other characters comment on your main character's appearance. PHRique made a good point: it's easier with female teen drama queens, or someone of that sort, because they could be complaining to themselves in their own thoughts about how they look, ranting to others about how they look, etc.
     

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