1. Flipdarkfuture
    Offline

    Flipdarkfuture Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2011
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0

    What is the best way to seamlessly write a characters appearance?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Flipdarkfuture, Feb 14, 2012.

    What I mean is this.

    What is the best way to seamlessly slip in a paragraph or so about a character's physical appearance and any unique features?

    Is there a way to do it without it seeming out of place?
     
  2. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    I think that most of the time these descriptions do feel out of place. But if I feel I must say something, I'll state it early on, and in context.
    If the character is pale, mention it in context of putting on sunscreen even in winter. Stuff like that.
     
  3. GoldenGhost
    Offline

    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2012
    Messages:
    505
    Likes Received:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Good writing will more often then not, feed in bits of description as the characters interact with their surroundings. IE: Jazzabel's example of putting on sunscreen. "She put suncreen on her pale skin." And then maybe descrbing parts of her facial features in dialogue etc etc. You generally don't always have to have the big paragraph in the middle of a scene that has nothing to do with the description other then you were already in the middle of one and she may have entered the scene from another room or they walked upon her etc: 'She stood average in height and had flowing brown hair. Her eyes were blue, buried deep within their sockets." and all that nonsense. If your characters are coming up on a building or something, maybe. But even then, I am learning that most of the time when characters are in the scene, everything can be described as the character experiences it.
     
  4. art
    Offline

    art Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2010
    Messages:
    1,159
    Likes Received:
    113
    A man wakes. The day after a weekend bender. He clicks on his ansaphone to hear messages from the previous days. He stumbles to the bathroom, the messages ringing through his apartment all the while...

    John, it's pretty important you get back to me about this...
    Son, if you could make it to your aunt's funeral, well, that would be nice..

    An excitable female voice, the voice of his on-off girlfriend of the last fifteen years can be heard.
    He looks in the mirror.

    ..and it's not as if I ever really fancied you for fuck's sake. Your fat face. Your odd baldness. Jesus, why can't you go bald like other men? Your small, dark eyes...

    He smiles.
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    pretty good, except for those italics...
     
  6. topeka sal
    Offline

    topeka sal Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2011
    Messages:
    135
    Likes Received:
    6
    What's wrong with the italics, mamma? Just wondering.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
    Offline

    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 18, 2011
    Messages:
    1,236
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Brisbane, Australia
    Italics should be used for emphasis of words. They're not used for dialogue or thoughts or any of that crap. That's a popular misunderstanding.

    That said, it's not necessarily bad. It's the way that language is evolving now. There are some elitists here on this forum (I am one of them myself at times) who believe that italics should only be used in a certain way. I don't really consider an answering machine to be real dialogue though, so I don't see why it'd be particularly wrong.

    I have a bigger problem with someone pointing out flaws in someone's appearance over the telephone. I mean, calling them fat and bald makes sense, but going on about "dark, beady eyes" is a bit unrealistic, I think.
     
  8. 1000screams
    Offline

    1000screams Member

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2012
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Undisclosed, USA
    The worst thing for me when reading is character detail info dumps. It drives me bonkers. I prefer less detail from the writer. My dislike of this often shows in my writing where I neglect to put much of any character details in, often going back and adding them later. But I don't add much. I like to give the reader a rough outline of what the character might appear like, tall, short, fat, thin, attractive or homely...And I try to do any of that in the perspective characters observations, which are generally contained within their own abilities of observation. So a relatively oblivious character might not notice things right away. I just try to make it natural for the character. That's what I prefer when I read, and very few pieces of writing offer that. Most have some aspect that pulls me out of the story, but I don't always put the book down, I'll keep reading if I'm invested.
     
  9. art
    Offline

    art Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2010
    Messages:
    1,159
    Likes Received:
    113
    Thanks, but the italics are the least of that effort’s shortcomings. A reasonably happy concept, shabbily executed.

    Quite.

    Of course, some people understand how some people think italics should be used and think those thoughts have little merit.

    I don’t read much fiction and these two examples are from books hard by – the last two works of fiction that I have read, in fact.

    David Foster Wallace, The Pale King:

    His italics.

    John McGregor, This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

    His italics.

    I must confess to not knowing how King, Rowling, Brown etc commonly deploy italics.
     
  10. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    On the topic of italics, I am reading Tess Garritson at the moment, and she did an interesting thing in her first book, the whole pov of the villain she wrote in italics. Also, most of it had the first person stream of consciousness thing to it, and I found it a very effective solution.
    He never physically described himself though...
     
  11. agentkirb
    Offline

    agentkirb Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2009
    Messages:
    494
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Houston
    Italics are fine as long as it's clear what you are doing and if you don't switch up your format mid-novel.

    As to the original question... I would say it really depends. If it's a first person narrative (or 3rd person from one persons perspective) then I think you can get away with more detail-y paragraphs because you can just have the guy notice odd things about the new person they meet. It might not have to necessarily do with obvious looks like hair color and eye color and all that but just subtle things that you immediately see but aren't obvious like posture or facial expressions or the way they walk.

    It would probably be easy to just re-read through some of your favorite books and think about how the author handled description of people (and places while we are at it). You can take notes on other things as well. I used to really hate using dialogue and then I read a book in the genre I write where they would have a few chapters in there that were 75% dialogue and the only non-dialogue parts where actions during conversation and at the beginning when they would set up the scene.
     
  12. thrawnking
    Offline

    thrawnking New Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2011
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree with GoldenGhost, most of the time you want describe things as the narrator experiences them. If your writing first person, it also depends on the POV character's personality. If the character is obsessed with his own image, then it would be in character for him to admire himself in the mirror for a few minutes. If the POV doesn't like how he looks, he may avoid thinking of his body or gives us a very grim description.
     
  13. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    topeka...
    in answer to your question of 'why?' see above and the many threads on this site devoted to the use of italics...

    in that instance above, messages on an answering machine are dialog and should be treated as such, with " "...
     

Share This Page