1. ShannonH
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    ShannonH Senior Member Supporter

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    When to Introduce Main Character Descriptions

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ShannonH, Aug 5, 2016.

    Was just looking for a bit of opinion on this. When reading a book do you expect to receive a physical description of your main characters early on in the story or would you be satisfied with it coming much later?

    It'll five and seven chapters in respectively before two of my primary protagonists receive a proper physical description. We do find out other things about them beforehand; size, scars, clothing, etc but do you think this is enough? Or is it even important?
     
  2. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    When my MC is meeting another character, I typically mention the person's appearance upon the MC's first sighting. But I don't go on in immense detail - just the basics so the reader can have a rough visual in their mind.

    As far as my MC's own appearance (it's first person), I weave in details in-passing, because it wouldn't make sense for a person to explicitly narrate in first person what they look like (this is a pet peeve of mine), but I think her appearance gets conveyed between pages 4-7 or so.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    By the time you get five or seven chapters in, the reader is already going to have a firm mental image of the character, probably based on a few significant details you shared up front. You're unlikely to change that with a description that far into the book, because the reader's mental image has solidified by that point. When I encounter this in books, it is mildly jarring since the author is describing something different from what I've already been imagining for five chapters, so I just skim through it and get back to imagining the character the way I already did.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2016
  4. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I'm with @Steerpike.

    If you're going to give physical descriptions of the characters, it would serve you much better to do it at the beginning. Or closer to the beginning.

    If I encountered a character description 5-7 chapters in, I'd skip right over it and continue with the plot. I'm not all that interested in character descriptions to begin with because I don't really picture facial details when I read anyway. I have a general shape in my head and I find that sufficient.
     
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  5. ShannonH
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    ShannonH Senior Member Supporter

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    If I take the example of my main protagonist, a few chapters in we know she is tall, has dirty blonde hair and some scars. It's probably more than enough for someone to make a mental image of that character for themselves.

    That being said the characters mentioned don't feature in every chapter at the beginning of the story. So the guy who gets his description in Chapter five, it's only the second time he'll have been featured up to that point.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is what I prefer. A few details, let me do the imagining.

    Different readers will react differently. The later description might be effective for some. Me, I tend to form a mental image almost immediately when a character is first introduced, and that usually doesn't change substantially as I'm reading, even as the writer adds description.[/quote][/QUOTE]
     
  7. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I don't think anyone can really give you a good answer without seeing the work. Your description might be needed earlier or it might not be needed at all. I do think if a description of a character is coming that late in the story and not when they are first introduced, you should have some sort of reason for this. But, again, without seeing the work, we're all just guessing on what you should do.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say either early or never. Late is likely to be jarring.
     
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  9. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I wanted to come back to this because I don't think character descriptions are meant to be a one-time thing. Sure, maybe we need a little more at the beginning, but couldn't we use some more of this or simply be reminded. You don't want to confuse character descriptions with info dumps.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I agree that early on is best. But it should be minimal, not a huge dumped list: She is 21 years old, medium tall, slender, blonde with blue eyes and long straight hair and a pretty face, wearing a pink spotted sleeveless dress and white high heels, talking to a man who looks to be the same age, is 6 feet tall, has medium-long dark brown hair, is clean-shaven, weighs about 160 pounds, has hazel eyes, a square-cut jaw, wearing western-cut blue jeans, a green sweatshirt and grey nylon hiking sandals, has an athletic build and very even white teeth.

    Aargh. Not only is this a horrible wad to wade through, but very few of the details will stick. Throw the details in, by all means, but keep them in context and feed them in gradually. Do it early enough in the story so the reader doesn't form an erroneous opinion of what the character looks like, but slowly enough so the reader takes the details in.
     
  11. lozzerwrites
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    lozzerwrites New Member

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    Whenever I read any book or short story, I do the thing of picking the real-life actor who I feel suits the character best and I picture them from then on out! However, that's not to say that absolutely 0 description is best. In my writing I try not to overwhelm the reader with physical attributes of the character, but rather keep things simple. They can make the rest up themselves. I only tend to point out the important things - any prominent features, hair colour, that sort of thing. Whether or not this works well remains to be seen! But yes, include these descriptions early otherwise I feel that the reader's just going to be thrown off completely when later down the line, the character is described as the complete opposite to how they imagined.
     

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