1. Surcruxum

    Surcruxum Member

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2017
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    39

    Character Appearance and Voice

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Surcruxum, Oct 4, 2017.

    Hi guys,

    I have 3 questions to ask:

    1. People say that it's ok to write MC's thoughts like regular sentences in the form of indirect thoughts, but I'm concerned that it might clash with the narrator's voice. That's why I've been writing direct thoughts in italics so far. So what should i do? Should i just keep doing what i do now?

    2. When do you describe the MC's appearance anyway? It's said that mirrors are cliches, and besides, there are no mirrors in the current setting.

    3. In what extent do you describe a character's appearance? Is it just hair colour, hair style, clothes, and other distinctive features? How do you guys do it? Another character is about to enter my story (besides the MC) and i don't know how to describe her properly.

    Thanks.
     
  2. MythMachine

    MythMachine Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2017
    Messages:
    198
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Arizona, US
    1) This simply comes down to personal preference. Write it in whatever way you feel comes to you naturally. If you really want to make sure that the reader can differentiate between the character's thoughts and the narration, use 1st person references every so often, I feel dizzy, my head hurts, and it bothers me. Most narrators have no need of those references, but remember not to overuse them. I think your readers should get the point either way, as long as you make any sort of disctinction between the two.

    2) I personally prefer when a character's description is hinted/given over a period of time, not all at once. Note I said hinted. Perhaps that gruesome scar on your character's cheek is the product of some horrific backstory, and is was inflicted by the big bad. Maybe they are bald in a society where long hair is overvalued. Consider applying their appearance in a meaningful way to the story, such as being revealed through action. Rather than just telling the reader that they're wearing a black trenchcoat, you can describe how their black trenchcoat brushes against the narrow alley walls as they squeeze through to get away from their enemy. The latter helps describe the character while still moving the plot forward without extraneous and choppy statements.

    3) In terms of extent, that probably hinges on necessity. How important is their appearance to them or the plot itself? I'm currently writing a graphic novel, so showing how my main character looks is quite impossible to avoid, but even if I were to write it as a text-based novel, her physical description is crucial to her development, relation to the world around her, and progression through the plot. First of all, she isn't human, so she has aesthetic and functional differences that need to be addressed. Secondly, she is a shapeshifter, so a lot of her changes and transformations would not make sense if I did not adequately explain her appearance along the way.

    Hopefully you can use some of this to your advantage. I learned a lot of it by practicing, reading books and spying on other member's previous posts >=)
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  3. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,420
    Likes Received:
    1,991
    1/ He walked down the street, glancing contemptuously at the girls in their short skirts and sleeveless blouses. Whores!

    Here it's fairly obvious that the MC (this is close third) is the one being judgemental. It doesn't conflict with the narrator's voice and, because the paragraph is describing his actions, his internal thought doesn't need to be italicised.

    If you're in 1st person POV, the narrator IS the MC, so EVERYTHING is his internal thought; just something he decided to share with the reader.

    2/ Why do you need to describe the MC's appearance? Quite often, less is more. A few hints (looking over the tops of the heads of the people around him/seeing nothing but the belly-buttons of the people around him) will usually do. If you need more than this, you can still include (in 3rd person) James Davis, tall and running to fat, panted as he chased the bus. Or perhaps James Davis panted as he chased the bus; too many meat pies and too little exercise.

    3/ As I said in 2/, less is more. It's only going to matter if I picture your heroine as a brunette and I can't cope with how Hollywood casts her as a blonde.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  4. Surcruxum

    Surcruxum Member

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2017
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    39
    Thanks for answering.

    1. Ok, then I'll just stick to what I'm currently doing.

    2. Gotcha. I'll reveal them through actions and probably some dialogues.

    3. Ah. She's human, and her features might not matter much, i think. But her ethnicity is. Not because of I'm trying to be diverse, it's because of it's important to the plot.

    1. I'm writing in close 3rd actually. That was a good example, but when I'm writing his thoughts, does the MC also refer to himself in 3rd person or 1st person? I am tired or He was tired ?

    2. Oh. I assumed when the MC and a new character enters the story their appearances have to be described...
     
  5. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,420
    Likes Received:
    1,991
    No...

    Perhaps it's just the voice that I default to, but James Davis panted as he chased the bus; too many meat pies and too little exercise is typical of the way I'd write. This is clearly James Davis thinking that he's had too many pies, rather than the narrator being judgemental, so you don't have to specify by pronoun.

    If you're going to do it, it does need to be third person he...James Davis panted as he chased the bus; too many meat pies and too little exercise, he thought.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  6. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    4,620
    Likes Received:
    3,807
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    1. People say that it's ok to write MC's thoughts like regular sentences in the form of indirect thoughts, but I'm concerned that it might clash with the narrator's voice. That's why I've been writing direct thoughts in italics so far. So what should i do? Should i just keep doing what i do now? -- Try both on a sample page and maybe have a few beta readers go over it and see what works. I'm not a huge fan of italic so I don't use them. I find that as long as the thought is coherently parked close to the mc it works with the italics.

    2. When do you describe the MC's appearance anyway? It's said that mirrors are cliches, and besides, there are no mirrors in the current setting. -- I try to give a description in the first chapter or not at all. One of my tricks is comparison. If there is an ideal to be met ... then the mc has grounds to compares himself. In my WIP the MC is 14 yr old boy who is an actor and he gets called on not being as trendy as a current star which allows him to run down his own statistics. Another way is through action -- putting on a hat to keep your head dry in the rain (maybe the mc is bald) or wishing they'd worn shorts because it's hot out. Meetings are good too -- the mc meets someone and hopes they make a good physical impression.

    3. In what extent do you describe a character's appearance? Is it just hair colour, hair style, clothes, and other distinctive features? How do you guys do it? Another character is about to enter my story (besides the MC) and i don't know how to describe her properly. -- Attitude through actions and options will go a long way sometimes they will do more for you than a description. If I told you Maisie, before her blind date was to arrive, smacked down all her framed glamor shots of her prize winning cat Princess Cheesecake -- that will say more for her than a description. You want to provoke an impression in the reader not so much just an image. A good way when having a new character arrive is give them some conflict -- even if it's to dislike something your mc likes to wear something controversial. When one of my side characters appeared in my WIP he was just a boy sorting his Skittles at the cafeteria loser table. An action that stuck in my mind and he soon became the Skittle boy.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  7. malaupp

    malaupp Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2016
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    127
    1. People say that it's ok to write MC's thoughts like regular sentences in the form of indirect thoughts, but I'm concerned that it might clash with the narrator's voice. That's why I've been writing direct thoughts in italics so far. So what should i do? Should i just keep doing what i do now?

    There's probably a grammar rule for it, but I often do direct thoughts in italics. Often times if I'm in a real speed-reading mood, I rely on those kind of hints that it's coming from the character, not the narrator.

    2. When do you describe the MC's appearance anyway? It's said that mirrors are cliches, and besides, there are no mirrors in the current setting.

    I throw the little mentions in as I go. Mention the color/curliness of their hair when they're brushing it out of their face, height when they're staring up/down at someone. Say that a certain piece of clothing is the same color as their eyes.

    3. In what extent do you describe a character's appearance? Is it just hair colour, hair style, clothes, and other distinctive features? How do you guys do it? Another character is about to enter my story (besides the MC) and i don't know how to describe her properly.

    I usually go with hair color, eye color, basic body type (height, shape, etc.) and distinctive features like a crooked nose or a tattoo. Admittedly I use some of the standard cliches as well. Like "Texas cheerleader" for a young, slim, pretty, blonde woman. Or "professor" for an older, but still maintained man with salt and pepper hair.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,261
    Likes Received:
    13,082
    Are we talking about third person or first person? In first person, the character is the narrator, so there really shouldn't be a voice issue. There's still potentially a tense issue, if the narrative is in past tense and you want thoughts in present tense. I see very little need for literal thoughts, but that's a discussion for the long long long long long long long "italics for thought" thread.

    Lets try a sample thought:

    Jane opened the door and stared at the room. What the bleep had Michael done?

    Above we're third person past tense. We recast the thought to also be past tense. This means that we don't have to worry about thought tags, italics, or anything else. We're nudging up to using Jane's voice--I'm assuming that whatever replaces bleep is a characteristic word of Jane's. But we're not bursting out of the narrative in a way that requires tags or typography.

    Jane opened the door and stared at the room. What the bleep has Michael done?
    Jane opened the door and stared at the room. She thought, what the bleep has Michael done?


    Above we decide that we want Jane's literal thought, by God! We must have literal thought! We must! Because...see, this is why I very rarely do this, because I can't think of any "because". But since we insist on literal thought, and we must burst out of the narrative, we therefore go to present tense, and we need either italics (shudder) or a thought tag (different shudder).

    I opened the door and stared at the room. What the bleep had Michael done?

    Above we're in first person past tense. Everything is more or less the same as third person past tense, except there's no issue of nudging closer to and away from the narrator's voice, because the narrator and the thinker are the same. Now, in first person you might feel more comfortable stepping deeper into the character's voice.

    I opened the door and stared at the room. What the bleep had that no-good self-important yuppie brat done?

    But you can dive into character voice in third person as well.

    And finally:

    I opened the door and stared at the room. What the bleep has Michael done?
    I opened the door and stared at the room. I thought, what the bleep has Michael done?


    Here we are once again using the (shudder) italics or (shudder) thought tags.

    Others have made good suggestions. If you're in third person limited, especially if it's close third person limited, or first person, you need to find something that makes the MC's appearance relevant to the scene, something that would cause the MC to actually think about it. This can be difficult. You may want to just write something dreadful and make a note that you're going to have to come back to fix it--when you've written more with this character, it may be easier to find a way.

    For example, I occasionally have a stray thought about my hair color when getting dressed, because now that my hair is graying the most flattering shirt color for me is a pale blue, while it used to be a bright red. And further exploring hair color and aging in the context of my life, there's the fact that neither my mother or my maternal grandfather ever grayed at all, and the fact that I often wonder if that's true or if they super secretly had their hair colored, because they were both the right kind of vain to make that plausible. And then I feel guilty, because my mother deserves the accusation of vanity, but my grandfather's character was sufficiently nuanced that I'm not being fair to him. Then there's the fact that my maternal grandmother apparently went pure white in her thirties. If I'm a character, all of that might might somehow make it possible to invisibly pass on my hair color, but it's the kind of thing that you're likely to discover further on in exploring the character.

    You don't even need that much. I prefer brief descriptions.

    A skinny dark-haired kid.
    A tall blond woman who looked as if she should be wearing Chanel, but she was wearing overalls instead.
    A man in suit and tie, corporate perfection, designed to intimidate.


    But whether the description is brief or long, you should focus on what the viewpoint character would notice. The skinny dark-haired kid might be intimidated by the suited man. The overall woman might have contempt for him as a tool of the corporation, and focus on just how much his shoes must surely have cost. The man's colleagues might notice that his tie is out of style.
     
    Surcruxum and xanadu like this.
  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,261
    Likes Received:
    13,082
    Any of the below, though the third with the thought tag is old-fashioned and used so seldom that I wouldn't recommend it, and the fourth is too much infrastructure for such a simple thought. I would recommend the first one, but the second one (shudder) is also in common use.

    James shut the door, dropped his briefcase, and sat down. He was tired.

    James shut the door, dropped his briefcase, and sat down. I'm tired.


    James shut the door, dropped his briefcase, and sat down. He thought, I'm tired.

    James shut the door, dropped his briefcase, and sat down. He thought about how tired he was.

    Edited to add: Of course, the infrastructure for the fourth one could be a deliberate choice.

    James shut the door, dropped his briefcase, and sat down. He thought about how tired he was. He thought about the noise and smell of his commute. He thought about his boss's expression when he had asked, once again, to be compensated for the software that he had paid for out of his own paycheck. He thought, for that matter, about the paltry size of that paycheck.

    He reached for a pad and pencil from his briefcase and began to compose his letter of resignation.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  10. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    9,502
    Likes Received:
    9,758
    Location:
    England
    Don't bother. People will form their own picture of him/her when they begin to pick up on their personality. Also you can give indications in actions. If your character has a scene where he's chasing a baddie for five solid blocks, it's pretty obvious this person isn't an unhealthy 16 stoner.

    The only clue I give to my character's appearance is during a shower scene in which I give a throwaway mention of his shaven head. And that's it. I'm happy for readers to form their own mental picture.

    Truth is, the vast majority of readers couldn't give a flying monkey what your MC looks like.
     
  11. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2008
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    432
    Regarding point one: it's pretty normal for writers to use the character's voice as the narrator's voice. It's called "free indirect discourse," and it gets a lot of use in limited third person perspective.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.
  12. Surcruxum

    Surcruxum Member

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2017
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    39
    Oh. So far my character's voice and narrator's voice are 2 different voices. Maybe i should use free indirect discourse and change what i have already written so that both sound the same. Thanks!
     
  13. Surcruxum

    Surcruxum Member

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2017
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    39
    Thanks everyone for your inputs. I have a much better understanding now, and here's what i got:

    1. Appearances don't really matter unless they're important to the plot. If i want to describe them i don't need to do it all at once. Instead, do it gradually in bits and pieces through mostly actions and possibly, dialogues. I don't need long descriptions as a short one will do.

    2. Apparently there are still discussions about italics. Furthermore, i realized that the narrator's voice is supposed to be neutral, as in basic show and tell, while a character's voice is opinionated, so it's easily distinguishable (Please correct me if i'm wrong). Also, thanks to @ChickenFreak for the detailed explanation about the different ways to write about thoughts.
     
  14. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2008
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    432
    Your opinions on this will shift over time. I don't wanna muddy the water overly much right now. Let's say what you're thinking is not wrong, and maybe you should ask yourself the same question in 6-12 months or so. :)
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,261
    Likes Received:
    13,082
    Not necessarily, no. That's a perfectly plausible way to do it, but it's just one possible way to do it.
     
  16. Surcruxum

    Surcruxum Member

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2017
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    39
    Ah ok. Btw, is it ok to write some thoughts in 1st person (without italics) even though I'm writing in third? Like this:
    Nothing has changed. He sighed. Why do i even bother hoping? Suddenly, his stomach growled.
     
  17. K McIntyre

    K McIntyre Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2015
    Messages:
    120
    Likes Received:
    110
    I always put thoughts in italics - makes them easier to distinguish.
    Also - your narrator doesn't necessarily have to be neutral. For example, if they were narrating a horrid massacre, or the death of a loved one, or .... It depends on the story and what you are trying to do.
     
  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,261
    Likes Received:
    13,082
    I would write that as

    Nothing had changed. He sighed. Why did he even bother hoping? Suddenly, his stomach growled.

    Many others would likely write it as

    Nothing has changed. He sighed. Why do I even bother hoping? Suddenly, his stomach growled.

    Actually, they probably wouldn't, because the double italics are messy, and "Nothing has changed" really doesn't get any value at all from being a literal thought. So another possibility would be to keep only one of the literal thoughts:

    Nothing had changed. He sighed. Why do I even bother hoping? Suddenly, his stomach growled.
     
    Surcruxum likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice