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.
     
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  2. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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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 Active 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.
     
  4. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Senior Member

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

    Bone2pick Senior 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 Banned 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.
     
  8. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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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 Senior 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" thing, 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.
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2018
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  12. Alphacharizard

    Alphacharizard New Member

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    My advice is avoid unnecessary details and just focus on what can be important or relevant in some way.
    I'm gonna give you some examples I used (not the best writing, but I hope they can help you):

    First example:
    Jack was looking the picture of the girl.
    -Pretty, right?-A misteryous voice said behind him.
    Then Jack looked behind him to see and he found two yellow eyes and a big smile with sharp teeth.
    Jack screamed and fell.

    Here I just described what it's necessary to make clear that the other guy is ugly.

    Second example:
    Jack was in the floor for his injuries and Bianca went to help him.
    -You need help, Jack- Bianca said to him.
    Jack turned to see her and he didn´t react. He didn´t know who she was, or how she know his name, or why someone whould use a sweater at summer, but something was clear: she was beatiful.

    Here I said that Bianca was using a sweater. This was made to state that Bianca has a weird custom that will be relevant in the future, and also it could serve as a little comical element.
     
  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Don't stop the story for anything. Make it part of the story. If it's not part of the story, it doesn't really need to be there.
     
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  14. Christopher Walker

    Christopher Walker New Member

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    When it comes to characters, I ask myself how important it is to know their appearance. If you're writing a romance then it's more important to show that a man is handsome or a woman is beautiful to their love interest, whereas it's less crucial to know what a secondary character in a short story looks like when they're in one scene. Picture a car: depending on how large its role is in a story an author could just write 'car', or go into detail about its design and colour and engine specifications; Stephen King's Christine wouldn't work without those extra details about the 1958 Plymouth Fury of the title.
     
  15. VictoriaPrincess

    VictoriaPrincess Member

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    This ^^ . Not always, but a lot of the time I describe characters that way.

    My example - "Charlotte looked in the mirror, she saw herself, a pale young woman wearing a white dress. Dresses weren't usually her thing, but she wasn't about to go out for dinner with the man of her dreams wearing a black top and bloodstained jeans."
     
  16. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    We don't know the POV of the story; thus, we don't know the answers that could possibly apply.

    A 3rd person omniscient narrator can give us a description from a "God's Eye" view of things. The question there is not why but where an when the description best fits within the flow of the narrative.

    A 3rd person limited or 1st person narrator would more satisfactorily need to contextualize the reason for any given description. It's not a God's Eye view of things. People don't take in the appearance of other people with a tip-to-toe, every little detail, mode of engagement.

    We need the POV of the story in order to give any meaningful answers.
     
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  17. Spirit of seasons

    Spirit of seasons Active Member

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    I think it’s a good idea to find a happy medium between no description and to much. I’ve seen both done well but for beginners I’d suggest only the bare bones.

    How does the character carry the self, or act?

    Are they related to any other characters? For example from my novel Evergreen, Rose and her father Crow. They both are fair skinned with green eyes and black hair. The hair colour is relivent because of how Roses hair becomes grey mid way though the story. It also shows how Rose inherited her fathers features and her mother’s looks. There is also a sense of distance between them because of how shaky their relationship is. They should be close as daughter and father but Roses mother kinda ruined it for both of them.
     
  18. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    I'm currently reading Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight. So far I'm not a fan of her prose in general, but I'm especially irritated by some of her facial descriptions. Emphasis mine.

    F'nor dropped beside bronze leader. "Did I see him about to draw on you?" F'nor's eyes were bright, his smile acid.

    The very next page.

    "A strength, indeed; even my brown feels it," F'nor replied, his face lightning.

    That type of description doesn't work for me, but I can put up with it if it's used sparingly. Here's hoping I don't see much more of it.
     
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  19. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Anne was some of my earliest reads as a kid in the late 70's. What you're pointing out, if that's not your thing, yeah... it's not going away any time soon. That certainly is a part of her style.

    I loved Pern as a kid but as an adult, those truncated names with apostrophes (and I remember perfectly her reasoning for how and when that happens, and only to dragonriders once they've successfully been chosen and impressed upon their dragons) is really cringeworthy. Okay stories, bad linguistics.
     
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  20. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    @Wreybies I'm trying to rotate some acclaimed fantasy authors and series into my reading rotation, and I've finally landed on Pern. And as I said, Anne's prose isn't proving to be my cup of tea. I'll power through Dragonflight though, just so I can say I've read her. :bigcool:
     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    While I like being given some idea of what a character looks like, when I'm reading, I really detest the laundry list, dropped in right at the start when we really don't care about the character yet.

    By laundry list, I mean a token opening sentence followed by a full description of age, weight, eye colour, hair colour, skin tone, freckles, body type, etc. The worst part of this, besides yanking me out of the story, is that I am NOT going to remember these things. I'm too busy trying to figure out what the story is about.

    The best way, in my opinion, to describe a character is to have them be described by somebody else in the story. And described by what stands out to them ABOUT that character they are describing. More description can leak in later on, as it becomes important. But first of all, establish what is important to the character doing the observing. And don't make it a laundry list. One or possibly two points is enough to get you started.

    Mom can't stand the fact that her chubby daughter, against her mother's express wishes, has dyed her hair purple and got a red heart tattooed on her forearm.

    The daughter thinks her mother looks like an old grannie because she refuses to dye her mousey gray hair some decent colour—and WHY is she wearing beige? Beige pantsuit, beige handbag. Yuck—beige isn't even a color.

    The main male character can't take his eyes off the young woman sitting three rows down from him, even though he can only see her from the back. He likes the way the sun catches individual strands of her auburn hair, turning them into gold, and he's intrigued because she seems so proud of her jade bangle bracelet that she keeps pushing her sweater sleeve up to ensure it's always on view.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2018
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  22. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

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    Some notes I took while reading Stein on Writing:
    - Minimize description, don't stop the story while describing
    -Keep characterization visual whenever possible - what is the character's attitude toward themselves? How do they show it?
    -Make them just different enough to interest the reader, but not "special"

    I tried taking this into consideration when describing my MC's father and came up with this:
    Her father, Edrick, stepped through the door just as she finished. The miller and the baker of their small town of Amberfield, he had a habit of folding his muscled arms across his chest to seem larger, as if a slender baker were an affront to the trade.

    Hope that helps a little.
     
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  23. 18-Till-I-Die

    18-Till-I-Die Banned

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    This is just me but I kinda tend to describe a character in broader strokes, but focus on the basic look like their beauty or ugliness, their skin and hair color and eye color, and also go into their presence and the feeling people have around them and maybe some of their outfit. If they have outliers like a cybernetic limb or alien limbs or something (I write a lot of sci-fi and cyberpunk) then I go into that. Then the audience, the readers, they develop the image in their head on their own, and THEY determine what it looks like to them.

    Like if I described, say, Queen Elsa from Frozen (I'm a big fan, she's hot ok? sue me) I'd specifically mention her beauty and her grace, maybe even have other characters like inner-monologue describe her as such, and then like say she has "ashen hair" and "piercing, ice-blue eyes" and like describe her outfit as like a silken blue gown with a snow white cloak. Wow ok I'm sweating now...uh, anyway then the reader sees in their mind what THEY see as beauty and poise and grace and they know what she looks like.

    Or like if I described McCree from Overwatch I'd focus on how masculine and strong he is, how he radiates this feeling of confidence and power, and yet at the same time he's war-weary and gravel voiced. Describe his dark hair and beard, and how his skin is swarthy and his eyes are dark and kind of drowned out by a look of both weariness and power, an old soldier with a cybernetic arm and a red poncho. Tan hat and cigar in tow, six-shooter at his side.

    Off-Topic but I would also suggest the same for battles. Go into the viciousness, describe the actual weapons used, the tactics, not literal descriptions but a broad overview that kinda goes into maybe flowery or poetic terms.
     
  24. Drake GreenWood

    Drake GreenWood Member

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    If you.. when you describe someone from the point of view of one of your other characters. Remember to use their, language, word choices, and grammer.
    Even more so in the beginning, as you are introducing Both; Visuals and Thought Patterns, for different characters.
     
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  25. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    Description of ANYTHING should be important to the plot or character development, or something the reader can relate to that makes an emotional connection with him/her/it.
    "Jimmy wore red sneakers splashed with flecks of avocado pint." If the paint or the sneakers are not important to the story, who would give a crap?
     
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