1. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Character description without being obvious

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Nov 16, 2016.

    Yo!

    So I have this character, right? Her name's Seren, and she's kind of a bitch. But she also has this bright red hair. Like red red. This is how I picture her, just, you know.. minus the lion.

    Anyway. Her hair color is super important to my story, and she's the only person in her city to have it. It's part of her magic. But I don't know how to casually mention that her hair is brighter than the sun. I have one scene where she pulls a hood over her head to cover her hair. She was trying to hide, and anyone who knows her would be able to find her immediately because of it. But this scene doesn't happen until halfway through the third chapter. Re-reading it, it seems too sudden to mention her hair without saying something about it earlier.

    Any suggestions on how to subtly insert her hair color?
     
  2. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    What is the POV?
     
  3. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    First person, told by Seren.
     
  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    My daughter used to wear her hair long, as in long enough to sit upon it. People would say to her, "Your hair's really long." She would rant to us her mental response of "Really? I'd never noticed!" Perhaps Seren could pull something like this..."Gosh, your hair's really bright red."...

    ETA: Possibly have the beholder attribute the gorgeous colour to some old wive's tale of a beauty tip..."I bet you soak it in donkey's urine to make it that colour, don't you?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2016
  5. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    So have another character interact with the idea that she has red hair in some way. Obviously, avoid the mirror scene or some shoehorned description, but if he hair color is as important to the story as you say, I don't think readers would be put off if you find a way to have another character comment on it like @Shadowfax mentioned.
     
  6. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    I have this issue too, it's irritating. Sometimes I have characters glance in a mirror before leaving for work or whatever. It's a good opportunity to do a little description and even convey how they feel about their appearance. I think it is natural, because I think most people like to know how they look before going out into public. But, I can't do that with all my stories, because that would be trite. If that isn't right for your scene, perhaps she could express some irritation about having to deal with hair that makes her instantly noticeable.

    This might sound weird, but perhaps a way to think about it is to not have the goal be what the character looks like. How people look and perceive themselves has a pretty big impact on how they behave and how others threat them. It might be useful to think of appearances in this regards understand what they think of themselves or how others see them.

    I'm currently writing about a character who ended up living in a desert for five years and her appearance changed because of it, so when I'm describing her looks it's also to show that the environment had an impact on her life. Hope that helps.
     
  7. hirundine

    hirundine Contributor Contributor

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    Maybe she could find a stray hair on her clothes or in her food. Then she could pick it up examine it, notice that it's bright red, and realise it must be one of hers. Would that work?
     
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  8. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    It would be impossible to casually mention human hair that is brighter than the sun. Something like that would be of cosmological significance.
     
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  9. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    I like these ideas (especially the donkey's urine :p), but I was worried it would come out too forced. Especially because she interacts with so few people before I finally mention the color.

    But I think I may have just found a way to incorporate it a little bit... Thanks guys!

    :p
     
  10. Lyrical

    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    I like the suggestion of having someone comment on it. Maybe someone she's never met before who marvels over the color, much to her annoyance. It would be an easy way of putting across how unique her hair color is in her environment. At least it's more interesting than the cringe-worthy mirror trick.
     
  11. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I would just make sure that the observation comes up in response to something.

    In my Urban Fantasy WIP, my narrator internally mentions his white skin, average height, and average weight as being helpful for not getting recognized after an impending bank robbery.
     
  12. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Literally just wrote this into my first draft. Does it work okay? And by "work," I mean does it feel forced or no?

    ----

    I jogged off, pushing my way through the crowd despite the protests, and walked straight up to the counter. A short, pudgy man sat behind it, picking at his dirty nails with a needle. I dropped the package of beef in front him. He looked at me with bored interest. “How you get your hair that color?”

    I glanced down at the strands of red, almost the color of rusted iron, before looking back at the man. He leaned forward in his booth, arms on the counter, squinting to get a better look. “You use some kind of trickery on that hair?”

    I was used to travelers questioning my color. Red hair, it wasn’t common. At least not in Preithos. As far as I knew, I was the only person with the hue. The locals all knew of me by now — the orphan with the red hair. But travelers, they were different. They reacted in two different ways — skeptical questioning or blind fear. What happened to me to give me such a color? Was I tainted? Was I ill? Surely I must be. Red hair like mine doesn’t just happen. I must be sick.

    “Just born with it,” I finally mumbled.

    He didn’t respond. Just stared at my hair as if wondering what combination of berries I used to dye it.

    “Sir,” I said loudly. He glanced up at me with a scowl, as if irritated that I interrupted him. “The meat?”

    His lip curled in distaste, but he picked up the package and turned it in his hand.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In general, that works for me. I might lose the "I glanced" paragraph and go straight to "I was used to..."
     
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  14. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    As @ChickenFreak says, that's OK.

    I'd contrast the trader's query "You use some kind of trickery on that hair?" - which implies that she uses the donkey's urine - with the travellers who react with blind fear - which implies that it's so undesirable that nobody would use such trickery.
     
  15. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    Doesn't feel forced to me. The "I was used to..." paragraph reads really well. I think what's important is that, with the description, you're showing her character as well. I get a lot of good character voice coming from that excerpt, which is a perfectly good function of description.
     
  16. Trevor Richardson

    Trevor Richardson Member

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    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know why the MC can't just address this as the narrator. I have the only red hair in town. It's so bright the children look away as they see me coming over the horizon. You get the idea.
     
  18. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Cause I don't mention her appearance anywhere else in the beginning chapters. The only time it's even slightly mentioned is after the short excerpt I just posted. The same man makes fun of her for dressing "like a man."

    I do have her talk about her hair when it's relevant, but before that, there wasn't a place for her to bring it up. But I think I got it figured out now. :)
     
  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I guess you were asking how not to be obvious. Sorry. Anyway, your novel sounds cool. I wish you luck with it.
     
  20. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    Just one more thought. If her hair is unusual, you might have a little child comment on it before being quickly shushed by its mother. I'm one of the few non-Japanese in my neighborhood, and I regularly have small children point and say "Gaijin, gaijin!" It's actually rude as hell, but that's their parents' problem, not mine.
     
  21. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Hi @Trevor Richardson

    I actually hate this...1/ Bored and Interest are pretty much mutually exclusive. (OK, I should have picked up @Lea`Brooks over that one!). But, 2/ How does the MC know what he's glaring at? He could be glaring at anybody who moves, he could be glaring at anybody whom he thinks is about to needle him about his team losing last night...
     
  22. Trevor Richardson

    Trevor Richardson Member

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    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  23. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    First sentence of the book: "She had flaming red hair." Why not? If it's "her", say it. Why shilly shally around with it?
    Be bold. Be brash. Be brave! She is.

    POV = point of view, or privately owned vehicle
     
  24. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Well, first of all, it's told in first person. So it'd be "I had flaming red hair."

    Second, the opening line of the book is supposed to grab people, and I doubt a statement about her hair color (especially since she doesn't know it's related to her magic) is going to grab anyone.

    And third, if I wanted to throw her appearance out there without reason, I would. But it's a huge pet peeve of mine when others writers do that, so I'm not going to do it.

    But thanks.
     
  25. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    Firstly, it is a grabber of a statement. It challenges the reader, and the reader then challenges YOU. "Flaming red hair...and?" That "and" is where they turn the page. (This is a good thing.) Secondly, writing in first person is like intentionally crossing a mine field. Thirdly, the entire purpose of writing is to SHOW. If you don't show your character, why bother with hair color in the first place? Fourthly...my coffee cup is empty....
     

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