1. Captain Cat

    Captain Cat New Member

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    How to describe appearances

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Captain Cat, Oct 10, 2018.

    So, I've started writing my first book and I'm kinda stumped at how to properly stop and describe the characters' clothing and overall appearance.

    The least I know is, like, not to stop the action to go on about how pretty the protagonist is and not to go on for too long with it. Aside from those two points, I don't really know, heck, sometimes I feel like I don't describe them enough because I avoid either of those.

    So, uh, some help would be welcome, thanks in advance.
     
  2. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    This is something I'm still not sure about. But one thing I think helps is try to make the description of the character as relevant as possible. Which is to say, describe them in a way which describes their personality, what they are doing at the time, how they compare to their surroundings, what other characters think of them, and such. That way you can blend it into the text more, relate it to what you are already talking about at the time.
     
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  3. Drinkingcrane

    Drinkingcrane Member

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    Don’t describe to much. Make a basic sketch and move one. The human imagination is amazing thing. Leave room for the imagination. It works even if you don’t describe a character at all.
     
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  4. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    Not at all and/or shortly and/or by action.
     
  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Member

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    Funny you should ask that, as I just started rereading A Clockwork Orange and I couldn't help but admire the characters' dress description this time. It was really thorough—more than what I normally do—but it worked. Somehow all the details mattered.

    The four of us were dressed in the height of fashion, which in those days was a pair of black very tight tights with the old jelly mould, as we called it, fitting on the crotch underneath the tights, this being to protect and also a sort of a design you could viddy clear enough in a certain light, so that I had one in the shape of a spider. Pete had a rooker (a hand, that is), Georgie had a very fancy one of a flower, and poor old Dim had a very hound-and-horny one of a clown's litso (face, that is). Dim not ever having much of an idea of things and being, beyond all shadow of a doubting thomas, the dimmest of we four. Then we wore waisty jackets without lapels but with these very big built-up shoulders ('pletchoes' we called them) which were a kind of a mockery of having real shoulders like that. Then, my brothers, we had these off-white cravats which looked like whipped-up kartoffel or spud with a sort of a design made on it with a fork. We wore our hair not too long and we had flip horrorshow boots for kicking.
     
  6. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    When possible, describe characters from the perspective of one of your protagonists. Also, be real sure the description foreshadows something of the story to come. It should not be a mere laundry list of visuals. You need to impart on the reader the character's essence. In the case of Captain Baptiste (see below), he has a gambling problem... that Adeline unknowingly picks up on as she's assessing the man. First impressions in fiction are even more important than they are in real life!

    This one is from the POV of a twelve-year-old girl who's being sent away by her parents. It's 1792 and the Revolution in France is spreading to Orleans where she lives on a sprawling country estate. Adeline has just arrived dockside with a trusted servant, and meets the captain of the Viola for the first time. Adeline's parents have booked her voyage on the Viola (a smuggler's ship), which will take her down the River Loire to safety... which won't be at all safe.

    ______ description of Captain Baptiste ______________

    From under a wide-brimmed hat he appraised her with eyes the color of rum. He stood tall and at ease, with a neat beard and mustache and long glossy black tresses that fell just so. He wore a foppish tailcoat and cinnamon brown breeches tucked into three-buckle boots—rather dashing our Captain Baptiste; in a comically roguish kind of way, Adeline thought. Yet there must be something wrong with his luck, or why else would he settle for a humble river when the romance of the sea seems more to his calling?


    ______ description of the good ship Viola ______________

    Curiously, for all her weary plainness, the grime on her decks and the barnacles on her hull, she was no spinster-in-waiting. Rather, the Viola seemed more a maidservant run ragged and much in need of a holiday. She was small and unassuming, even mousy, but with good bones and a bit of brass about her. She set well enough on the water, dressed in wych elm and gently rocking from side to side, her three slender oak masts tracing lazy arcs in the bruised sky—if shown some kindness, she would clean up nicely. Three men were working about on her decks, calling to one another, pulling at rigging and ropes, wielding hammers and poles.
     
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  7. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    There are ways of looking for scenes that give you opportunities to state your mc's appearance as a natural part of the scene -- if your mc is due to meet some new or find themselves in a new situation they're going to be more conscious of their appearance. If the weather is different, suddenly sunny after weeks of rain or vice versa that lets you comment on their change in apparel & simultaneously make comments about the weather or the setting -- again they're more conscious of it. And if you start with a change -- In a fit of anger I chopped off my hair -- the description allows you a sense of action, tells you about your character and allows you to seamlessly continue describing.
    And if you're starting with full blown action scenes you can weave the description in -- It's like Romancing the Stone when Joan Wilder (romance writer) is stranded in the jungle with Jack (smuggler) we know she's not dressed for being chased through Columbia and at one point it becomes part of the action when Jack chops the heels off her shoes with a machete or ogles the tear in her skirt with appreciation.
    Contrast can really help too. You can bring in some characters and if they're dressed differently it makes your mc more self conscious. Or and the character can be described through someone else's eyes.
    Also keep it more about impressions and less about a list. A couple of interesting details will say more about your character than a long familiar list.
    I could tell my old batman socks and pink converse sneakers weren't impressing the locals. No biggie. Their cowboy boots weren't impressing me - example.
     
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  8. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    There is no "proper" way. There are many ways to describe and you choose the one that fits most.
    You can go: "John was very handsome. He wore a black suit."
    or you can put those two together: "John looked handsome in his black suit." or add a bit of story, "John always looked scruffy, but his new black suit turned him into the handsomest hunk at the prom."
     
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  9. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Member

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    Description seems to be a personal thing. Some readers like to have their characters described to them very clearly. I never liked it. We'd meet a character and I'd instantly get a picture of him/her in my head with the way they acted and spoke. I'd picture them as chubby, blonde with blue eyes and quite short. Then three chapters later the author would describe them as thin, tall and brown hair and eyes. After that I'd have trouble picturing the character at all. And I like to see everything happening in my mind as I read and I couldn't.

    So because of that I tend to describe my characters vaguely or not as all. I don't feel it's that important because I find readers use their imagination easily and don't need it jump started by the writer.
     
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  10. Paradisa116

    Paradisa116 New Member

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    I was talking with my friend recently and he had some awesome advice: describe characters like you would describe someone to someone else. Like, "he's short and kinda pudgy with tons of acne,'' or something. I don't know how effective this is for like, historical stuff, but it definitely helps with modern and realistic stories.
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    That's why as part of the "first impression are important" thin, if you are going to describe them, get at least some of it done in their first scene, usually the first paragraph they're in to form that immediate impression when relevant.
    But yes it is a personal thing in terms of the tastes of writers and readers. The more I learn about writing the more the rule is clear "it doesn't matter what you do as long as you can do it well". Now some things can't be done well, or are very hard to get right, and so aren't worth it. But a lot of things that some people don't like if done properly will be very appealing to others who like what the author is trying to do. Technique and it's precise execution is most of the battle I think. Ideas and first principles aren't the main thing that makes good or bad.
    And I would agree heartily with others that if OP you are trying to do description, try to make it interesting and relevant. Use it to show or as part of showing something else more immediately worth it like character, theme and plot that people are less likely to oppose on principle. That way even if some readers don't like reading physical descriptions they can still get something out of those few sentences or so because there's more going on.
     
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