1. abby75
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    abby75 Member

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    P.O.V clarification needed please.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by abby75, Aug 11, 2012.

    I have been told that I can't describe my character's appearance unless I am writing in objective or omniscient POV.

    Here is an excerpt from Stephen King's 'Under The Dome':

    It's what I should have done to Dale Barbara, he thought, and stepped back with the heels of his palms pressed against his throbbing temples. Tears from his watering eyes spilled down his cheeks. He had bitten his tongue badly - blood was streaming down his chin and pattering on the floor - but Junior wasn't aware of it. The pain in his head was too intense.

    King is describing his character's appearance; his character is not aware of it but King is showing us all the same. I am not that great at distinguishing pov's but I think King is writing in third person semi-omniscient , and I think I am doing the same. I'm sure that allows for author description?
     
  2. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Exactly. But being good looking is not an objective description. Good looking is an opinion. Who's opinion? The narrators? It's okay to describe subjective appearances, but you need to do it in other ways beside the narrator doing it. You CAN have the narrator be subjective, but it's intrusive to the story.

    In that excerpt by King, he's only describing objective descriptions. There's no opinions infused in there.

    Edit:

    It's not a big deal at this stage, this is your first draft, but I thought you should know. When you go back later you can fix all that stuff and make your prose shine.
     
  3. abby75
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    abby75 Member

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    Thanks for your input, I do appreciate it I'm just struggling to get my head around it. I want to convey an image of the character, but I also want to write from the character's point of view. He is a well built guy, so is saying 'his well muscled body' an objective description?
    The bit about him being handsome is inner narrative and it's meant as an insight into his character; he's aware of his looks but also of his shortcomings. I will go read up on pov's.
     
  4. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Wouldn't that first person? In Third Person Limited/Omniscient, you can't directly add the character's opinions into the narrative like that. From what I'm aware of. That's not really inner narrative...he wasn't thinking that, was he? I can see why you're confused.
    No, that wouldn't be imo. Just a normal description.
     
  5. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Yeah I think saying well muscled body is objective. Don't be in too much of a hurry to describe every aspect of your character though. You haven't finished the chapter yet, and you can always reveal more and more about your character. Although if it's integral to the story, make sure you mention it sooner rather than later. If your character needs to use his strength later on, it's good to mention it now, but if he doesn't, it doesn't really matter if you wait a bit to drop that in.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Always keep your POV's character in mind. If the POV is a typical teen guy, don't describe the clothing on the girl he sees in fashion-magazine jargon. He probably notices whether her nipples show through the fabric, or how tight her jeans are. Eye color? He probably noticed that she had two eyes, but even that is probably assumption, not observation.

    It isn't enough to describe what the character can actually directly perceive. You should describe what the character would actively notice. No one notices that their friend of seven years has brown hair today, even though they can see it clearly. They would only notice if the friend was blonde yesterday.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    eh? There's no physical appearance descriptions in that Stephen King excerpt. I don't know if this man is young, old, short, tall, fat, thin, blonde or with brown hair or maybe he's a retired 80-year-old guy with shaky knees. He could be wearing a tux or t-shirt or suit or plate armour for all I can tell. He could have wings on his back. Now I'm just assuming he's human as well. All I know is - 1) he's a man and 2) he bit his tongue so there's lots of blood.

    The blood was indeed described but that is not the character's own "physical appearance". Although since the character isn't aware of it but you know as a reader, I guess it's omnipresent POV. I guess that was that you meant? - rather physical things in general, not just character appearance?
     
  8. abby75
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    abby75 Member

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    Mckk, I meant that the author was intruding there as he was describing the bleeding, which the character narrating couldn't see. Anyway, I think the penny has dropped now, finally! I am going to re-write the chapter entirely in 3rd person subjective and write a preceding narrative chapter.

    Is it against the roles to post an excerpt? How are people going to understand what I want clarification on if they can't see it?
     
  9. fwc577
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    fwc577 Member

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    I just want to say, this is absolutely false. What you cannot do is info dump your character when you're not in first person PoV. This rule is one that cannot be broken whatsoever. People do break it but it's extremely cliche to do so and it shows that you're a novice.

    Another part you mention "well muscled body"

    Show us this. Make him need to perform some feat of strength. Then we will know that he is ripped.

    In my novel my main characters girlfriend wants her to wear a certain shirt because she thinks the color makes her hair and eyes "pop". My character looks at it in the mirror and agrees.

    If I then went on to talk about even more stuff like cup size, body tone, height, weight, etc while she is looking in the mirror it would feel like a cliche info dump.

    What other sorts of description do you want the reader to know about your character? I might be able to provide examples of how you can "show" that instead of "tell" that.
     
  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The advice you've been given is quite incorrect. You can describe any of your characters appearance, regardless of the POV you are using. I can't even begin to understand why anyone would give you such an advice at all!
    The thing with descriptions is, they should not sound lame, self-indulgent or testify to excessive author insertion. But the bottom line, in writing, you can do absolutely whatever you want.
    Even if you choose to write about a complete narcissist, in first person POV, and describe how he sees himself in the mirror, hundred times by the time your book is over.

    The point is that you should focus on perfecting the storytelling, and that includes character descriptions to achieve maximum effect.

    Another thing is, you don't have to stick to one type of POV, lots of books mix first and third, limited and omniscient etc.
     
  11. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Of course you can describe the character but personally, I only prefer the important things. Maybe eye colour and hair colour at first. I don't want a whole paragraph of how the MC looks down the last freckle. That would be...yeah, no thanks. Sometimes, you have to think about the readers, right?

    True! But the thing is, you have to remember you have to be able to do it well.

    Be careful with this one...sometimes it works. But mostly, (this is my personal opinion) I dislike it because it's so jarring. Just use one POV imo.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am at a loss to see what in my comment made you think that I was suggesting anything like this? I simply said that description as such is perfectly fine (indeed over 99% of the books I've read, and I've read thousands, have some kind of character description in it), as long as it is in line with good storytelling, and used to achieve maximum effect. I just hope that I wasn't completely misunderstood.

    Same goes for the rest of my comment. I suppose the advice is only as good as it is useful to the person receiving it. And what is useful changes with time. In any case, whatever rules one chooses to follow, there always comes a time when the rules are too restricting. This is why I always try to encourage new writers to let go, not worry about success, embarrassment, failure etc, but allow themselves to experiment, practice and grow. Because eventually, every accomplished writer creates his or her own rules, which is why I said that a writer can do absolutely whatever they want, in order to achieve best translation of the idea in their head into the story on paper.
     
  13. abby75
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    abby75 Member

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    Thank you Jazzabel, it's really nice to hear a different opinion on it. Maybe you could take a look at the piece in question in the writing workshop and give me your opinion?
     
  14. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    The thing that's trying to be put across is this: a character isn't going to think to themselves "I'm good looking," unless it's been prompted for them to think about how they look. I know what I look like. I've known it for, I'd have to say, about 17 years (given that, as a baby, I probably didn't know). So on a daily basis, I'm not waking up and going, "My name is Dillon. I'm 18 years old with red hair, freckles and hazel eyes that, some days, look blue and other days look green. I don't find myself good-looking, but I do have some features I like."

    There's nothing to prompt that kind of thought in my head, because that's just something I know. I don't have to remind myself of it. Therefore, if I were the main character in a story, it would unnatural, in a first-person setting, to think it to myself. Walking past a mirror and catching a glimpse of red strands out of the corner of my eyes, however, is perfectly natural. As would be walking around outside, if I was a good-looking guy, and noticing, vaguely, that there are girls watching me.

    There's nothing wrong with giving description of your character, but when you're writing from first person, your thoughts need to be natural. You need to be in the mind of your character, and you need to ask yourself, "Is there anything to make my character think this?" I'm not going to suddenly start thinking about my summer cabin unless it's been prompted by something, such as being mentioned by another person or seeing, perhaps, a picture of it. So there's not reason to mention it, right? The same goes for how your character looks. And there are ways of getting that appearance across without straight out saying it.
     
  15. Krystle Robison
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    Krystle Robison Member

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    If it fit into the scene you could have them look in the mirror like "I rubbed my chin noticing the scruffiness of my five o'clock shadow" thats not a very good writing example but its an exampl
     
  16. fwc577
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    fwc577 Member

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    Haha, girls.

    Let me rephrase that sentence how a guy would.

    I felt a slight poke from my whiskers and rubbed my chin. "F---, I need to shave."


    Anyways, back to what I said. Don't info dump. While someone might say, "don't give that advice!" I'm giving it anyways. A character isn't going to go into the mirror and check themselves out unless they are a vain idiot at which case it's okay if you write the entire story in that manner.

    Now, in the original example. Steven King leaves first person PoV to give us some extra info. However, he isn't describing what the character looks like. Everyone assumes this guy is a normal looking guy and he has a chin. He is describing the action of the blood dripping outside the first person.

    Finally, why do you need to tell us what your character looks like? Is it important? I know the novel I'm working on the only things that are directly revealed about my character are she has red hair and green eyes and this is actually important for something later in the novel. It is also assumed that she is pretty and athletic due to the fact she works out/runs and she has a hot boyfriend. Because I don't embellish too much into the details of the character the audience is going to better identify with the character. As human beings it's our natural instinct to be competitive. Reading a novel, someone might be offput by a first person character going deep into how great looking they are. We aren't there to hear how awesome of a mix someone can make Neo/Jet-Li in description. We are there for the story and info dumping unnecessary details is jarring from the narrative.
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    It really does depend on the context, what sex (sometimes) and the type of story as to whether those things work.
     
  18. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Psh, my character is vain (at times) but I don't even going have him describing how he looks like again and again and again...haha

    But I agree with what you're saying. :D Slide descriptions in when relevant is the best way to go. For example, my character always get remarks about his ginger hair. He also complains about his height because he hates when he only reaches to most guy's necks. I don't reveal his eye colour since that isn't relevant.
    Hell, I read a book once that gave no description of the POV character and it worked out fine. Readers can make up an image themselves at the end of the day.
     
  19. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    -shrug-

    I'm a visual sort of person. I like knowing what the main character looks like, and therefore, I prefer to provide that information for my readers.

    I do completely agree with it needing to be done right, though. You can't just slam it in. In the beginning of my current project, my character goes through a physical change - her eyes turn COMPLETELY different colors. So I have her comparing the rest of her appearance to; sort of going through a check list. "Yup, my hair is still black. Yup, my nose is still long. Yup, my eyes are still slanted." Having such an obvious and dramatic change to a part of her face, I think, made her review of her appearance seem more natural.

    Still, I think that at least a SMALL amount of description is good. For girls, it's easy enough to notice your own hair color. And if you've got a character that has interactions with parents, siblings or other relatives, skin color can be made clear (though, of course, you'd need to make any description of other characters natural, too, I know). I agree that eye color can be fairly unimportant unless it is important (such as in Harry Potter where his eyes were like his mothers and it - eventually - played out to mean something).

    But anyway, yeah: I prefer the reader to know what my character looks like, at least a bit.
     
  20. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Oh, and just wanted to clarify something:

    I believe the first part of the sentence, before "he thought," is meant to be italicized and for that to be purely a thought of the main character. The book itself, I think, is in third person, and the person who is bleeding is actually the main character. I don't believe Stephen King is actually switching about. So it would be written thusly:

    It's what I should have done to Dale Barbara, he thought, and stepped back with the heels of his palms pressed against his throbbing temples. Tears from his watering eyes spilled down his cheeks. He had bitten his tongue badly - blood was streaming down his chin and pattering on the floor - but Junior wasn't aware of it. The pain in his head was too intense.

    The main character is Junior. You'll notice that, following the thought, we continue to talk about the character whose temples are throbbing. They are the same person. This is also the same person who's bleeding really badly; they just aren't aware of it because the pain in their head is too much.

    So, not the best example, as it's not actually what you thought it was.
     
  21. Krystle Robison
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    Krystle Robison Member

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    This sincerely made me laugh. Yours is certainly more believable from a man than mine
     
  22. abby75
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    abby75 Member

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    Thornesque, I don't think you understood me. The book is actually written in third person and omniscient- he has some chapters that are completely author narrated, most are third person but not from the same character throughout, but yes this particular excerpt is from a chapter written in third person from Junior's point of few. The point I was trying to make was the fact that telling us he is bleeding badly from his bitten tongue and is covered in blood is author intrusion- Junior isn't aware of it so he can't be telling us. King is breaking away from his pattern of writing each chapter either in omniscient or in third person- he is combining the 2, and I don't think it detracts from the flow or takes us out of the story at all.
     

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