14 April 2016

Looks & Appearances

**My theme for this year's A to Z Challenge is THE REVISION PROJECT. Topics I come across while I write the third draft of my novel, Uneven Lines.**

I was tall, pretty skinny, which apparently a lot of girls went for (don’t even get me started on how hilarious that was). Just plain old brown eyes and short, light brown hair. I guess it really had to be my face. I’ve got high cheekbones and a smile that can kill.

Have you ever thought about what your characters look like? Of course you have! We probably know every exact detail of every character's appearance. But that doesn't necessarily mean it shows up in the story. How much do the readers need to know about what your characters look like? And how often should it show up?

I know some people will argue that you don't have to describe appearances at all. While I think it's definitely easy to overdo it, having a brief description of what a character looks like will help the reader to visualize the story better. Especially if the character is important. Minor characters don't necessarily need to be so clearly defined if they aren't showing up as much. For instance, in my book, I never really describe what Jordan's friends, Eric and Brian, look like. They're only in a few chapters and since I already had to give descriptions for two characters in the first chapter, I didn't want to bog down the beginning of the book with character descriptions.

So what do you tell? And when do you tell it? I think it's better to get it out as quickly as possible. If you're introducing a character, then you probably want to describe what he looks like. If you put it off for too long, it may come off as strange to just suddenly say what he looks like halfway through the story when you've made no reference to it before. So my general philosophy is right away, or not at all. It's a lot easier when you're introducing a character we've never seen before. Jordan meets Tom for the first time at the end of Chapter One in UL, so that was a perfect time to describe what Tom looks like. For other characters, it isn't always so easy.

The hardest thing, I think, is to have a character describe himself. You'll only have this problem if you write in first person. There is rarely a time when a person will actually describe what they look like and it will sound normal. You'll have to find a way for it to come up naturally within the story. The whole "describe myself while looking in the mirror" thing has been ridiculously overdone. When I have Jordan describe himself to the reader, his thoughts are a reaction to a conversation he's having with his friends at the time. He doesn't go into a ridiculous amount of detail, either. Just a few sentences and then the story continues. I think it works for the scene and gets that description out of the way so the reader can better visualize him through the rest of the story.

You can sneak in details throughout the story as well. I felt in Jordan's initial description, I didn't fully explain what his hair looked like, because it just seemed silly and unimportant. But I figured I could sneak in some detail later on in the story when he's getting ready for a date. I'm sure most people will fuss over their hair in that type of situation, so it won't seem strange like it would have in his initial description.

It's really all about finding the right place and the right way to describe a character. You may not be able to get every single detail in at once, and that's ok. You just have to find the spots that work for your story and characters.

Do you include physical descriptions of your characters?


  1. I try to give the reader just the broad strokes of a character's appearance and let them fill in the rest. They can't always be avoided, but I just hate big blocks of description, so I try to avoid using them whenever possible.

    It sounds like you have found good opportunities in which to fit that description.

  2. I definitely don't overdo it, but there are ways to sneak in details. I have a character who is not secure about her looks compared to her dainty friends, so as she laments her too-big feet, broad shoulders, and chapped hands, the reader starts getting a picture.

  3. I found it hard to do in my WIP, but I needed to, as many of my characters would be considered racially diverse, and I needed to prohibit a reader from defaulting the characters to white in their mind.

  4. Adding character description is tough for me. I try not to flat out spend a paragraph describing them, and instead give basics like hair color and skin tone. Eye color comes later when someone is looking at them. Same thing with voice. So far all of my books have had models representing the main character on the cover so that helps.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  5. I'm guilty of using too little description, because it often feels so awkward trying to work those details in. It helps if you have more than one POV and someone can describe the other characters instead of him/herself.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  6. One problem I have is telling too much descriptions in my stories. The same goes for character descriptions. I feel like I have to describe everything at once so the reader has a clear picture of what the characters look like, even if it's a minor character. That's something I need to improve upon.

    G. R. McNeese from
    Project Blacklight

  7. I've been accused of not describing my characters enough, but only a couple of times. I do pay attention to how characters look, but I focus more on how they behave.

  8. I agree with you about the difficulty of a character describing him/herself! When I write in first person that is always a challenge but, of course, one I welcome.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  9. I find that when I struggle with something in my own writing, I pay attention to how better writers do it in their writing. That's often a good way to help me sort out any problem. That goes for describing characters (which is a challenge for sure).

  10. I am currently struggling with the very issue!
    I have a vision board of all my characters. I know exactly what they look like - but how much do I need the reader to know, and how much do I want the reader to imagine for themselves?

  11. I write romance so how a character looks comes into it but I usually try to make the 'in the eye of the beholder' thing in every relationship.

    Susan Says