1. Tobi
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    Tobi Member

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    Spreading Description

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tobi, Oct 8, 2008.

    My MC wears a lot of clothes and has a lot of items on him. Describing him in one go would be a massive info dump. So I've spread out the details throughout the story only revealing stuff as is necessary.

    Early on the MC uses his hands; I use the chance to reveal he's wearing gloves. Later on I reveal he has a ring on his right hand and a gauntlet on his left. These things were always there but don't get mentioned until there was a reason. Will this confuse the reader?
     
  2. FantasyWitch
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    FantasyWitch Contributing Member

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    Don't think so. I always like to discribe characters in the first meeting of them, but thats a person choice.

    I think your way could work fine if done correctly.
     
  3. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Personally, I reveal as neccesary. If it's not required in the scene, leave it til it is.
     
  4. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I don't think there's anything wrong with at least a few sentences dedicated to a character's description when they first show up, IF their appearance is something quite unusual. (For example, a ring isn't unusual, but a gauntlet is--I'd probably say this character is wearing a gauntlet right off the bat.) If it's just a matter of somebody wearing a lot of stuff or adornments that otherwise are pretty common in the story's world (e. g., pants or a dress are usually a given!), then revealing it in bits and pieces is better. And truthfully, if the reader really doesn't need to know that So-And-So is wearing a ring (if the knowledge of them wearing a ring doesn't really contribute much to understanding or envisioning them as a character), then it doesn't need to be pointed out at all. (Unless it's a very unusual, eyecatching ring.)

    In fact, in such cases, revealing later on that So-And-So is wearing a ring--that is, waiting until way AFTER they've been introduced and the first physical impression has been given--might make the reader think, "Ah, So-And-So has a ring, and the writer has waited this long to point it out. That must mean something important!" Then they might spend the rest of the work wondering why you revealed this bit of description so late in the game, and will be irked when there's no real reason, it was just for the sake of description.

    So no matter where you reveal the description, or how you do it--all at once or spread out in bits--keep in mind that any description you include should be NECESSARY, and it should be necessary AT THAT POINT IN THE STORY.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Do not forget POV when going off on a descriptive bender. If your POV character wouldn't notice it AT THAT TIME in the story, then leave it out of the description!

    If your POV character has known his friend for several years, he won't notice hair color or eye color, or height, or clothing - any of these things - unless something is really different that day.

    Don't be infected with describe-itis! Just because you have a visual image of your character, don't impose unimportant details on your readers. Let the RELEVANT details show up when they matter, and not before!
     
  6. Rebrella
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    Rebrella New Member

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    I think the way you're doing it is fine. Cognito's got a good point of going with what your MC notices. If he doesn't notice the ring right away, don't talk about it yet. Just remember to put yourself in the place of you MC and share only relevant details.
     
  7. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    When I'm reading, I actually like knowing more about the character sooner. I don't like extensive info dumps, but a few paragraphs about an important characters appearance isn't a problem, at least in my opinion.
     
  8. Iris Reola
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    Iris Reola Member

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    I think that, perhaps, when you first introduce the character, you could give a brief description of his appearance (physical appearance and attire). Then, if you feel more detail needs to go into describing him, you could add more descriptions as needed. That way you've given your character a proper, distinguishing introduction without boring your reader through paragraph upon paragraph about detail.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Always leave the reader wanting more.

    Just because a reader wants to know more about a character from the start doesn't mean you should yield to that desire.

    A little yearning is a good thing!
     
  10. Tobi
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    Tobi Member

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    When I read I like to make up my own mind on how a character looks. I just want enough detail to have a vague image of the character.

    I have another issue which deals with description. The MC’s face isn’t revealed until halfway into the story. This is a result of the MC’s character and the plot, it makes sense. I find it strange as I’ve only just realised this, it really could be an issue.

    I think what I'm doing now works. Only use description as necessary.
     
  11. Rebrella
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    Rebrella New Member

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    I think it's fine, unless he has a striking feature that would take you by surprise if you saw it- like one eye? Then again, you may want to surprise the reader, so...
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    But if the POV is someone who has known the character for quite some time, even something like that wouldn't brought out in the narrative.

    If you have any disabled friends, do you comment to yourself about the disability every tiime you see that person?

    The way to reveal something like that is from reactions of people who don't know that character well:
    Stay true to your POV's character's way of thinking, even in narration. Naturally, that applies primarily to where the POV does represent someone in the story.
     
  13. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    There is such a thing as too little description. I recall Steven Brust's "Jhereg" series, which had an explicitly nonhuman race known as "Dragaerans." It wasn't until the fourth book that he bothered to describe any of their physical features; it turned out they looked just like humans, but slightly taller. Meanwhile, I'd spent three books picturing reptilian humanoids. It was rather jarring.
     
  14. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends how you do this. See, say the man gets trapped in a room, and needs a pocket knife to get out, and just happens to pull one from his pocket when it has never been mentioned before, people are going to think it has been far too set up. However, if you mentioned previously in the story that your MC was flicking the pocket knife, which he had drawn from his pocket, without making a big deal of it but mentioning it was there, it will seem less coincidental.

    Just my opinion.
     
  15. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Be careful what assumptions your readers make. When you leave questions such as "what does he look like" unanswered, your readers may either (1) wait for you to answer them, or (2) make an assumption. (There's also the third option: quit reading.) Personally, my "waiting phase" ends about 2-3 paragraphs after the character first shows up. After getting past this point, I no longer expect the writer to give further details about him/her and begin making assumptions. Some people can go longer without making assumptions; it differs from person to person. We all do it, without even realizing it. For example, the author doesn't have to tell me a character has all his limbs, eyes, digits, etc, intact. Unless he says otherwise, I'll assume everything is there. The big problem arises when the writer decides to tell us something that goes against the assumptions we've made, especially if those assumptions have been allowed to go on for a really long time (such as Scattercat's example of the "Dragaerans"). Timing is also important in Heather Louise's example; a new detail introduced at the wrong time can seem like a Deus Ex. Avoid that by all means.

    What you should aim to do, above all else, is to control reader assumptions. You can never control them completely (which is why I think ridiculous amounts of description is somewhat pointless) but you should guide your readers in a particular direction by dropping hints at appropriate times.


    To the OP:
    My best advice is to explain (briefly) what this guy has on. If you can't do it briefly, without interrupting the story, at least let us know he's carrying a lot of "things." We don't have to know what these "things" are, but knowing there's something there will make it less surprising when he draws it out later on. At the very least, let us know he's the sort of person who would carry a lot of stuff.
     
  16. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    The only thing I would suggest is consistancy.
    By this I mean that your MC might have an item for a lot of situations, but do not make it a cop out. If you never intended for him to have a certain item do not suddenly let him have it to make the story "easier" to write.

    I suggest you actually write a description for yourself so you know what he has. Then refer to that when certain situations require you to explain what he has stashed away.

    This will keep you honest in my opinion.

    Just a suggestion
     

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