1. CreeWolf
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    CreeWolf New Member

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    Placement of character description

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CreeWolf, Jan 8, 2012.

    So after finally overcoming what could be best described as a horrible fear of being a terrible writer, I've sat down and started on a novel. However one thing is nagging the hell out of me. I want to start out my story with a small action scene. Nothing over the top, just something to get the reader hooked from the beginning. Now as I'm writing this scene, I realize rather quickly that I need to keep things flowing or the tension of the scene will fizzle out. On the other hand it involves the main character of my story and, besides how he handles the scene, it does little to describe his physical appearance. I can't seem to shake the idea that if I don't describe him amidst this action sequence it will make describing him later seem...wrong. Logically I know that it realistically shouldn't work out that way but some insane section of my brain refuses to relinquish its death grip on the idea. Anyone care to weigh in on this?
     
  2. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I describe very little of any of my character's physical appearances. I might occasionally mention a detail or two, but most of it I leave to the reader. I introduce it if it's actually important. Some stories are like that. I mean, if there's something remarkable about their appearance - if they're quite large, quite small, have dyed hair, have interesting eyes, et cetera - then it should be mentioned as early as possible.

    Whatever you do, don't mention details when they're not important. You will be severely punished, by me, if you ever use anything even resembling the following phrases:
    "<character takes action> as they looked up into her deep blue eyes."
    "<character takes action> and pushes back her long, raven hair/blonde locks <rest of sentence>."
    Mention appearances where it's necessary.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read somewhere that you should "act first, explain later", which makes you're initial strategy perfectly logical. :) Why don't you give it a try and then you let someone read it and tell if it's confusing or not? If it's a good action scene I doubt it reader will care about the description anyway.
     
  4. hoggyboy
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    hoggyboy Senior Member

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    not exactly like that but yeah looks like imma get punished big time
     
  5. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Personally I quite like those phrases as they give details about the character's appearance without being overly intrusive. They can also show emotions: If the POV character is focusing on someone's eyes, perhaps they are romantically involved for instance. However I also tend to give a general overview of a character's appearance when we first meet them, but if it would interrupt the flow of the narrative I leave it out and drop details throughout.
     
  6. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've got no problem if the character is actually just looking into another character's eyes, but even then there's no need for horrid descriptions like that unless you're writing trashy romance, in which case it's more than okay. It bothers me when it's tacked on to another action. There are right ways to describe characters and wrong ways. Tacking their appearance onto otherwise unrelated sentences is a very wrong way.
     
  7. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I disagree that it's unrelated. If you're looking into someones eyes the colour is the part you notice. It seems a bit extreme to say that mentioning someone's eye colour is horrid :p. And really that's how we take in details in real life: tacked on to actions. I'm more likely to pay attention to someones hair colour when they're brushing it, or someones eyes if they're wearing clothes that set it off. I like to have a strong mental image of what a character looks like but I don't want a huge paragraph detailing every facet of their appearance from eyebrow density to the width of their thighs (an exageration but you get the idea.). Even my introductory descriptions are generally no more than a sentence or two in length. So instead I give a short overview at the start and then weave in the rest more subtly.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    i don't think it was the fact that the writer described the color of the eyes that was horrid but how it was written. it served as an example of poor writing. Of course you can describe them, just make it better than this. :) and, of course, preferably in a context where it's relevant, not just to spice up the dialogue-tag.
     
  9. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Yeah I was just being a bit tongue in cheek. But as I say I do it to get a description of the character, not to spice up the dialogue.
     
  10. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    I must say, I recently passed through a similar stage a few months ago. Even i had those 'terrible writer' feeling when i began penning down my first. I realised the fact that trying to add certain points irrelevant to a high tension scene (like a nail biting suspense revealer, in my case, or an action scene in yours) tends to 'steal the thunder' of the gripping scene and it gets tad messed up. Better describe the charater later or simply mention certain characteristic traits.
     
  11. Mercury12000
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    Mercury12000 Member

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    I think that it's most common to get the full description of a character out of the way within the first or second chapter of a novel. Imagine finally discovering that the main character was Asian when you got to chapter 9, it would ruin all of your preconceptions.

    I have read a lot of short stories, though, that never mention all the specifics like height, clothing, teeth, nose. They work just fine for me.

    But in a novel I've noticed that they always describe the characters appearance asap.

    That said, I'm all for breaking the rules.
     
  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm another of those who rarely, if ever, describes a character's looks. And you definitely don't want to do it during an action sequence unless it's important - I always use the example of the character's height versus his opponent's in a fight scene. That could definitely affect the outcome so it's important to mention. Otherwise, meh - let the reader decide for themselves. They will anyway ;)
     
  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    well, you could always hint that kind of info with the names or tiny details in the surroundings, or even language.
     
  14. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree with describing characters in full right from Go! Do you notice every little detail about a person the second you meet them?

    When I'm introducing a character I think of how I would first perceive them. If there is something particularly striking or important about them, I'll mention it. If not then there is no reason to early on in the story - why should the reader care enough about this character yet to give a damn about something as insignificant as the colour of their eyes?

    Eg: my introduction for one character included that he was stood in just his underwear, scratching at his potbelly, and that his hair was thinning and greasy. These were just things my MC noticed at once when the character opened the door: the big picture. In prose, wouldn't that create a stronger impression and tell you more about a character than being told the colour of his hair?
     
  15. KinkyCousin
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    KinkyCousin Member

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    I try to slip in physical descriptions during a character's first appearance but I don't go into detail, I only describe basic things like hair colour, height, sometimes eye colour, etc. If the character is of a different ethnicity to the other characters I'll mention it too, it's all so that I don't ruin a long-standing image a reader has of a character by suddenly pointing out a major difference in appearance.
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If this is how you feel, then describe him fully and get it out of your system. You can always cut it out later :)
     
  17. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... Damnit, that's great.
    This is exactly right. Exactly.
     
  18. Mercury12000
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    Mercury12000 Member

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    There is only so much you can describe about a person anyway. It's not like describing an intricate painting, it's a human body. 10 times out of 10 they say something about a characters hair; gotta talk about the hair.

    And I get quite conscientious when I reach the point where I describe my characters appearance. It's like, "Ohhh great, here I am, describing the look of my character. How original".

    :rolleyes:

    And they say the reader isn't supposed to sense our presence.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always dislike those "offhand" insertions of character description into an action. So I also vote against the "as they looked up into her deep blue eyes" things. I'd instead rather have a description that acknowledges that it's a description, even if it's a very brief one, and ideally tie that description in to the action. Example:

    I dropped my checkbook and deposit slips on the counter, and smiled at the teller. She was blond and perfect, one of those beautiful people that always made me feel for a moment as if I'd wandered into the middle of an advertising photo shoot. She didn't smile back; maybe she was afraid of smile lines, or maybe I was too grungy to qualify for the courtesy.

    "I'd like to make a deposit?" I winced as I heard it come out as a question.
     
  20. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a good example, but I wouldn't like this done any way other than as an initial description. At first, I thought the character was just standing there, then dropped his stuff and looked at her and got the description. Then you had that bit of dialogue which makes it sound like she's just been introduced. So that's okay. It was just a mildly confusing example.

    So yeah, offhand stuff = bad. Initial descriptions = good. Other examples subject to subjective conditions, I guess?
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, it's just a quick and sloppy example. I was thinking that it needed more or improved context, and then when I wasn't sure what to change I got lazy and just hit Post anyway. :)
     
  22. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    It depends what sort of point of view it's in. Say, for example, it's in first person; the main character probably would not reflect on his/her looks during or even after any action scene. The best way to describe a character's appearance while in first person is to find an opportunity to drop a few hints based on the character's looks. They could be looking in a mirror or some other character could point out something about their appearance that could lead into the character describing how he/she looks.

    If it's in third-person, then the narrator could only briefly describe the main character after the action scene. As for other characters aside from the main character, you can always just briefly describe him/her in a sentence or two. Whatever you do, make it less than a paragraph. People generally don't like lengthy descriptions of, well, anything.
     
  23. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I'm not a big fan of character appearance descriptions. When I do, it's always slipped in naturally. I.e. "she brushed the clump of sweaty red hair off her forehead" on page 23, some in-passing mention about eye color on page 78 etc. Normally I just keep it to hair color/length, eye color, glasses (if there are any) and general overall clothing style, and keep it at that. Besides, people are going to create their own visual anyway.
     
  24. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's not really natural, though. If you mentioned "sweaty hair", that'd be fine, but why mention that the hair is red? That's just pointing out with giant neon lights, "OH LOOK HER HAIR IS RED" while saying that it's sweaty and hair. It's natural that when you look at someone, you notice they have red/<colour> hair. But when they're brushing their hair from their forehead, you don't think of them as brushing their sweaty red/<colour> hair away. You just notice them brushing their hair off.
     
  25. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    That is true. I wasn't deeply thinking through that, though, just trying to make the point that it's better to mention details like that here and there in passing than in one huge block. But yes, you're right.
     

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