Sep 18 2010

Please Don’t Flood Readers with Mundane Visual Details

1. Everything in your story should advance the plot and/or develop something important about a character. Please don’t stall the story with irrelevant details.

 

2. 99% of the time, it doesn’t really matter whether a character’s eyes are blue or green or whether her hair is brown or blonde. However, such details could be used to create an impression that does affect the plot and/or characterization. For example, if you wanted to suggest that a character looked mysterious and perhaps a bit dangerous, maybe you’d say that her eyes were a smoky blue, whereas the villain’s eyes might be a sickly or poisonous green. Or you could use some aspect of a character’s appearance to create a mood for a particular scene.  In such cases, I would recommend introducing these details only as soon as they contribute something and not because you think readers are wondering what color the character’s eyes are. (Trust me, they aren’t*).

*Of all the hundreds or thousands of characters you’ve ever read about, how many have eye colors you can remember? Any?

3. Rather than giving us a ton of details describing a character’s appearance as soon as the character is introduced, I’d recommend focusing on 1-2 memorable details. For one thing, that’s more distinct and easier for readers to remember. I don’t think that most readers will remember whether (say) a protagonist’s eyes are blue or brown because eye color is usually so incidental to the plot that it won’t seem like one of the 50 most important things to keep track of.  In contrast, I read a story a few months ago where the protagonist has a long scar on his cheek that made it look like he was always smiling. Even now, that detail is easy to remember because it developed the character in a significant way and reminded me of his brutal origin (he was orphaned by murder). If a detail doesn’t develop a character and/or the plot, why would readers remember it?

 

4. When you use any of the following visual details, please double-check whether they contribute to the scene (e.g. developing something important about a character or the plot). If not, they’re probably wasting space.

  • Eye color. If the most interesting thing about a character that comes to mind is his/her eye color, I’d recommend going back to the drawing board.
  • Hair color–it usually says less about a character’s personality than his hair style because hair style is a choice, but hair color usually isn’t.
  • Weight
  • Height–if it’s important to the plot that a character is (say) physically imposing or lanky/awkward, height might be important.
  • Clothing color?  In some cases, color may provide useful information to a reader–wearing relatively conservative colors at a hacker convention might be a sign that a character is an undercover agent or perhaps a football fan is so wildly intense that he refuses to wear red because it is the color of The Enemy.  However, in most cases I think most of the space spent on clothing color is wasted.

Writing exercise: Do a scene that effectively uses a visual detail to develop a character or advance the plot.

41 responses so far

41 Responses to “Please Don’t Flood Readers with Mundane Visual Details”

  1. Contra Gloveon 19 Sep 2010 at 4:51 am

    If flooding readers with mundane visual details is a problem, I think we can blame visual media.

    Let’s face it — many recent authors have grown up around film and TV. Therefore, they carry this mentality into their prose writing, elevating physical details to positions of unwarranted importance.

    I find that prose is efficient for describing ideas but not action, and visual media are efficient for describing action but not ideas.

  2. Ragged Boyon 19 Sep 2010 at 8:13 am

    Indeed, Contra. A large portion of our younger writers have grown up with anime and manga. Which I feel often puts emphasis on details that don’t seem like they’d be important i.e. eye color, hair color, weight, blood type, etc. Also, the unusual hair and eye colors are more popular than ever. Personally, I think it’s a cheap way to make characters stand out. The only reason I’d give someone a crazy hair color would be to show that they have an unorthodox personality and wanted to show it off.

  3. Contra Gloveon 19 Sep 2010 at 9:22 am

    Worst of all is this idea that their book will be made into a film or TV show (or, God help us all, an anime!) Now all of us can dream, but don’t write with that in mind, because chances are it won’t happen.

  4. Ragged Boyon 19 Sep 2010 at 10:22 am

    And in most cases, your story will come out cheesy for even trying.

  5. John Bentonon 19 Sep 2010 at 11:01 am

    “…hair style is a choice, but hair color usually isn’t.”

    One of my female friends is the oddity because out of all the other ladies she and I know around our age, she is the only one who *doesn’t* color her hair.

    These days, even retaining your natural color is still a choice rather than a mandatory requirement. That selection can say a lot about a person, but I agree that it’s a detail to hold back until it’s useful within the narrative.

    -J

  6. Mr. Crowleyon 19 Sep 2010 at 11:01 am

    or worse, it gets a fan base of people who, in turn, write stories in a similar style. one poor writer is bad, a whole army of poor writers is worse.

  7. B. Macon 19 Sep 2010 at 11:26 am

    “Which I feel often puts emphasis on details that don’t seem like they’d be important i.e. eye color, hair color, weight, blood type, etc.” I’ve seen two or three authors offer blood types for each of their characters. Now it all makes sense! Well, almost.



    For some reason, I feel a twinge of regret whenever I see an author drop a vast list of demographic details that don’t seem to have any connection to the story or could have a connection to the story but are just dropped in and then abandoned. I’d recommend doing this sort of brainstorming in paragraphs instead — the content will probably be more coherent and may save space (e.g. if 5+ characters are all around the same age, listing all of their ages individually is probably unnecessary).

    Otherwise, it’d be like…
    Agent Orange
    Nationality: He’s luridly American
    Statehood: Floridan
    Gender: [In case readers are really stupid and cannot pick up on the distinction between “he” and “she” on their own]
    Weight: [make up a number]
    Height: [make up a large number]
    Reach: [Hey, it matters in boxing and flossing]
    Occupation: [this usually matters, but if so it probably deserves more than a few words]
    Bloodtype: [whatever]
    Eye color: [whatever]
    Hair color: not applicable
    Birthday: [whatever]
    Astrological sign: Libra (the Scales), of course; the rest are mammals. Or whatever that worthless Pisces is.
    Psychological diagnosis: [probably something long]
    Favorite action movie: The Matrix
    Favorite romantic comedy: Jurassic Park

  8. Ragged Boyon 19 Sep 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I could see something like this working as a dossier if you have an organization that you wanted to portray has having high standards or being highly selective about who they hire.

  9. Ragged Boyon 19 Sep 2010 at 3:14 pm

    An explosion goes off on the first floor of a large luxury hotel. Two spys run into the disheveled lobby to assess the situation.

    Male Spy: Whoa! What was that?

    Female Spy: An explosion obviously. But what’s important is what kind of explosion?

    Male Spy: Well, judging from the low actual damage, lack of fire, and twinkles in the air. I’d say a Cryo-bomb.

    Female Spy: But how can you be sure?

    (A frantic woman dashs through the lobby past the spies)

    Male Spy: Did you see!? It was definitely a Cryo-bomb!

    Female Spy: Yeah, her hair was full of ice-shavings.

    Male Spy: Oh, you were looking at her head ?

    I’m still having a hard time with the art of suggestion. It’s supposed to be implied that he was looking at her chest and noticed she was freezing. 😀 Don’t know if it was clear.

    What do you think?

  10. B. Macon 19 Sep 2010 at 5:12 pm

    “I could see something like this working as a dossier if you have an organization that you wanted to portray has having high standards or being highly selective about who they hire.”

    Well, okay, but I’d recommend focusing on the details that are actually relevant. (IE: replace birthday with age, axe the weight and height and hair/eye color unless relevant, cut gender because the readers can figure it out on their own, etc). Also, it may help to replace something explicit like “psychological diagnosis” (which will probably be exposition that tells rather than shows the character’s mental issues) with something like a summary of a major case or two that shows the character’s mindset in action and lets readers reach their own conclusions.

    In a comic book, you could eliminate most of the visual details from the dossier by showing a headshot and/or an action shot in the dossier. (Or just removing the visual stuff entirely because readers will be able to see it in the rest of the story).



    I think I could come up with a funny scene that shows Agent Orange’s skewed reptilian perception by revealing that he thought of Jurassic Park as a romantic comedy, but it’d probably fit in more naturally in an actual scene than a dossier.

  11. Trollon 19 Sep 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I actually remember eye colors and character appearances pretty well…but I don’t want to hear about what they look like every other paragraph. (Like Twilight)

  12. koryon 20 Sep 2010 at 6:39 am

    Ragged Boy- I got the gist that one character was definitely not looking at her hair, but as far as determining the type of bomb by its effects on the bystander’s chest…that one is going to be hard to pull off without some kind of POV insight.

    My primary motivation for describing hair in my story is to place the characters in two groups. In a not so distant future, on a ship that must conserve resources on long journeys, hygiene and the cost to maintain things like long hair are a premium.

    The other primary descriptor is facial hair. The protag only shaves once every few days and thus has a near perpetual “I don’t give a flying f…” appearance. The captain maintains a meticulously groomed close cropped beard because he fancies himself a rugged individualist. The relationship between the two men is a tenuous balance and it is observed on more than one occasion that they work well together despite their animosity because they share so many common traits…including giant egos.

    Other physical descriptors I reserve for moments when it furthers the mood of the scene. for instance, talking about wrinkles around a characters eyes deepening as he stared.

    I don’t think there is a single instance where I do any head to toe description, it usually ends up very piecemeal, and almost never when the character is first introduced. Do I run the risk of having the reader develop a contradictory impression of a character if I do it this way?

  13. B. Macon 20 Sep 2010 at 9:54 am

    “Do I run the risk of having the reader develop a contradictory impression of a character if I do it this way?” Probably not, although it might be helpful to give at least a bit of visual description the first time a character is introduced so that readers have some idea of what it is they’re supposed to be visualizing. (Unless you have some stylistic reason to avoid depicting the character–my main villain starts out as an extremely mundane, regular guy, so I avoided visual description so that he’d be sort of faceless).



    “The captain maintains a meticulously groomed close cropped beard because he fancies himself a rugged individualist.” I don’t quite see why a rugged guy would closely crop his beard. That feels more tame than rugged to me.

  14. The Doctoron 20 Sep 2010 at 10:24 am

    Loved the scene Ragged Boy 😛

  15. ShardReaperon 20 Sep 2010 at 10:45 am

    I always have my characters describe one another and a physical quirk (like a scar or deformity) so as not to take too much time giving out pointless info that could be used to build the plot instead. Does this idea work better?

  16. B. Macon 20 Sep 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I like it and agree that it’ll give you more space to fill out the plot, but it might feel like James Bond if everybody has a scar or deformity. 😉 A feature or limb doesn’t have to be misshapen to be notable.

  17. koryon 20 Sep 2010 at 4:39 pm

    B. Mac,
    Its a matter of authenticity. Harry (protag) really is a rugged, hard living kind of guy. The captain, I guess you could call a poser, he just thinks of himself as the adventuresome type. The reality is, he rarely gets his hands dirty.

  18. B. Macon 20 Sep 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Ah, okay, that makes sense. Sort of like indoor rock-climbing or shooting clay pigeons. It sort of resembles a manly, rugged activity (mountain climbing or hunting) but is so utterly domesticated that it sort of misses the point. Then again, I am a huge fan of indoor rock-climbing, perhaps because I’d probably get vertigo and freeze up on a real mountain. Rugged I am not! 🙂

  19. Inner Propon 21 Sep 2010 at 6:35 am

    I hopped the counter to check on the tellers that had taken refuge there. The first I saw was a young woman in a stylish suit, but manish hair and nails. She was dazed.

    Another teller crawled over to me, “I called 911.” When I turned to him I had to stop, his eyes were the color of the Caribean and just as bright. I smiled.

    “Good job. Are you alright?”

    He smiled and nodded.

    “Can you take care of these folks back here?”

    “I got it, don’t worry about us.”

    I smiled, patted Blue-eyes on the shoulder and hopped back into the fray.

    (The first teller is an Athena archetype who wants to be feminine yet accepted by the men as an equal, she is also the “inside man” in this caper. Blue-eyes will become a romantic interest or a cause for revenge, or simply a distraction)

  20. bekson 01 Oct 2010 at 6:09 pm

    You forgot to mention cup size, that shit’s important!

    The only reason I keep personal stocks of character info is because I’m a visual artist, if I write something chances are I won’t use the information unless it’s important to the story. Making comics look good in color takes a long freaking time and I’m more inclined to do gray scale or black and white due to time issues. It is however nice for me to have a record of when I designed that character so I don’t go around changing their eye color every time I do do a color painting of them (people tend to pick on artists who do this haha). It’s an old habit from being an online/forum role player more then an inspiration from manga personally (having a physical characteristic template, that is).

  21. B. Macon 02 Oct 2010 at 9:01 am

    “You forgot to mention cup size, that shit’s important!” 😀

    Normally, I’d leave plot-irrelevant visual details to the artist’s discretion, but given that the character in question is neither a female nor a mammal, I’m pretty sure the cup size would be zero.

    I wonder if there are any situations where cup size might be plot-relevant. Umm, perhaps if the character’s physical appearance is a major asset or liability. For example, if the character’s main goal is to become a supermodel, but she’s built like Betty White, her appearance would probably be a major obstacle). Alternately, perhaps she looks like a model but is in a super-serious profession where looking like Aphrodite is actually a liability (academia, perhaps?)

    “It is however nice for me to have a record of when I designed that character so I don’t go around changing their eye color every time I do do a color painting of them.” For sure! I like keeping a running record of all the physical details I use for characters in nonvisual prose. If I mention something like a character’s eye color, I’ll make a note of the color and the page number in case I need to refer to it (or change it) later.

    (A minor caution to prospective writers: Such personal references should NOT be included in story submissions. They’d only be of interest to the writer, maybe your illustrators (if applicable), and possibly an editor checking for continuity errors. Editors reading a prospective submission are desperately strapped for time and absolutely do not care about a list of typically plot-irrelevant visual details).

  22. bekson 02 Oct 2010 at 9:03 pm

    For me it all goes back to “show, don’t tell.” Neither editors nor readers are likely to be interested in a long-winded list of details about a character. Why tell them about the characters features if it isn’t important, if you can show them through clearly defined visualization (if it is important or plot relevant).

  23. Aineon 15 May 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I would disagree a little. There is such a thing as too much detail, but hair color/style and physical build (clothing style could fit here too) are important for the readers to be able to picture the characters. Just don’t go on and on about it. It’s also best if you don’t go out of the way to mention it but sneak it in (she nervously tucked her brown hair behind her here, he stared into her blue eyes) I personally like that I can accurately picture Harry Potter and his friends. Minor characters don’t need those details though- that gets to cumbersome. Of course I’m not a professional writer, but I read a lot and consider the lack of description lazy writing. Though it does depend on how fast you are trying to pace the scene.

  24. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 15 May 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Aine:

    I don’t usually mention hair/eye colour except in the ways you mentioned. I find it a bit important to have a rough picture of the character in my mind, or else I just fill it in myself and end up getting two hundred pages in before it’s mentioned, and I go “Wait, he’s a redhead?! I thought he was brunette!”

    In one of my works, hair colour plays a small role in a character’s personality, or rather it marks a change. He dyed his hair blonde at thirteen and has been dyeing it since, but he’s starting to let it fade back to his natural colour as he renounces his “friends”, who aren’t exactly good people. They’re the kind of people who’ll gladly take any offered favours but never return them, and are likely to go back to the party when he needs somebody to help him out of trouble. So it’s important to mention how brown or blonde his hair is every so often, to show how much progress he’s making.

    Of course, hair colour does not equal personality, but in this case it’s a huge change for him to go back to his natural colour, so it plays a role in the plot.

  25. ElJaleoon 16 May 2011 at 9:53 am

    I heartily concur!
    I’ve noticed that, (esp. with teens) writers attempt to make a character unique by having an unusual hair color. i.e.: blue, purple, silver…
    But the thing is, we don’t care. And it kills the reader’s respect for your writing.
    Same goes for two differant eye colors, or any unnatural eye color, bionic eyes, cat eyes, pupiless eyes, or anime eyes. They are terribly cliche.

    I think that readers need a few physical details, but not in the first pragraph/chapter, and not all at once. I think it’s best to gradually give ‘hints’ to what your character looks like. And it makes your reader feel smart that way too.

    Of course, this isn’t always possible, such as when a minor character is briefly needed. In these cases, if you must describe their appearance, don’t waste words. One or two phrases/sentences will do it.

    And for pete’s sake, don’t describe the MC in first person POV by having them look into a mirror and comment on their own appearance!!!

  26. Grenacon 28 Jul 2011 at 8:55 am

    I remember reading a friend’s fiction and I always skipped over her paragraphs of character description. They were really boring and sort of made it harder to keep going with the story. I was re-reading the story and suddenly I remembered this lol

  27. invader-mynaon 28 Jul 2011 at 5:16 pm

    xD Yeah, I do that sometimes too. Usually when it’s like “Synthia had long blonde hair and blue eyes. She was wearing grey skinny jeans, converse with mismatching laces, a white tube top…” and gives an inventory of every single clothing item to no purpose.

  28. B. Macon 28 Jul 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I like the idea of mentioning the mismatched laces. It strikes me as effective characterization.



    KOREAN: Why are you wearing mismatched socks?
    B. MAC: It’s all the rage in Chicago right now.
    KOREAN: What’s Chicago like?
    B. MAC: Awesome, besides Al Capone’s goons killing everybody.
    KOREAN: Just like in The Untouchables!

    PS: I leave for Korea in a few weeks. I don’t expect that I’ll have any conversations like this, though.

  29. Grenacon 29 Jul 2011 at 12:27 am

    I would love it if her descriptions were at least like that. They just go on and on about bone structure and skin color and describe what they’re wearing down to the last stitch. And there are just so many characters, I just asdfghjkl:sjrfvsd ;A;

    Best of luck to ya B. Mac

  30. Snowon 11 Aug 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Personally, I like to have one odd thing about a character’s appearance noticed. One of my characters is a little boy; he wears hand-me-downs that don’t fit well because he was growing out of his clothes too quickly for his poor mother to afford, and often wears his shoes on the wrong feet.

    One of my characters was a twenty-something; she wore a promise ring her mother gave her, but only because she made herself a promise to never be like her mother and wanted a reminder.

    Stuff like that, I think, is more interesting than telling you that he has curly blond hair and grey eyes, and she has short red hair and brown eyes. (However, I had to say that about her hair because there was a series of photographs, and it was supposed to show the passage of time…)

  31. B. Macon 11 Aug 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I think those are interesting examples, Snow. They help build the characters and settings.

  32. WritingNinjaon 29 Sep 2011 at 8:41 am

    I’m glad for this website. I haven’t been able to write for the past 18 months because I was traveling and doing a service mission. When I came back, I decided to work on my book and I realized how stupid all of my plans were. I think it’s starting to be a culture thing with the color and description thing. I listened to a lot of girls talk about what they found attractive and how their husband will look like even though they don’t know anyone like it.

    Describing the color take away the magic of books. I also find that the details have to be tasteful too. I remember I was reading a book written by a female author about a wizard. I threw it down half way because the main character was a guy, went out on the date, went into length describing how she looked like a hippie, with ribbons in her hair, and how her skirt was flowing. The guy gave her points because she knew how to drive a clutch. I’m a girl and for some reason that whole description made the guy seem like a girl. It was creepy. For one thing, I don’t know any guys that would care about the color of ribbons in her hair, or if her skirt was white or flowing or not. I rather had the whole description be “She was dressed like a hippie, carefree and happy.”

    And many people wonder why children don’t have imagination nowadays.

  33. B. McKenzieon 30 Sep 2011 at 11:38 pm

    I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed what accessories someone was wearing (besides a gun holster and a ballistic vest). I’m sure ribbons have entered my field of vision at some point, but it’s just an extraneous detail to me.

  34. Yuuki12on 21 Apr 2013 at 12:54 pm

    @ B.Mckenzie.

    First off, thank you very much for posting this article. It’s been very informative. Also, I apologize if this is a bit off topic, but thank you for giving me feedback on the “red flag for female characters written by males”. That really helped bolster my confidence.

    Alas, I digress, so allow me to get to the point. Having finished my second draft of my short story, I noticed a few things.

    Given how tight a short-story must be, there isn’t much time for elaborate descriptions. Everything written must advance either the character or the plot in some way. That said, in regards to my main character, Jenny Walker, for the first half, I focused on one noticeable aspect: her hat.

    The garment I described resembling a preacher hat, however, is paper white with thick black sables, and has a string of crystals that ring the inside portion(making the reference they look like flames).

    What I hoped for this description was to demonstrate two things. One, implying specific character traits, without outright telling the reader(something I once read on this website).

    Two was that I emphasize how, despite how strange the accessory was, Jenny cares about it (evidence how later on someone tires to remove it, and she gets mad). Also, the one thing I noticed, while looking at it, was that I spaced out the descriptions of her.

    My worry was giving an information dump about how she’d looked, which might have stalled the story. So various aspects, like her gold snake-shaped earrings, I introduced in scenes which advanced the story, like some drunkard hitting on her, while waiting for the informant to get back to her.

    Is that a good way of approaching descriptions? Obviously, I am concerned about this, given that again in a short story, everything must be tight.

  35. B. McKenzieon 21 Apr 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Hello, Yuuki. Some thoughts and suggestions:

    1) In general, your plan sounds effective to me. Significantly more interesting than anything like “Jenny was wearing a white hat with a red shirt and beige pants.”

    2) Based on the description above, I wasn’t sure which character traits the hat was meant to demonstrate. As long as it’s clear in the context of the story’s scenes, that’s not a problem.

    3) Spacing out the description is generally a good plan. Giving us paragraphs of visual description whenever a new character shows up, particularly if the visual description isn’t all that striking, is liable to stall the pacing of the scene. (However, if the visual description IS striking, then I think readers will forgive you–e.g. an accountant in a suit does not warrant a paragraph of visual description, but a squid-monster in a suit probably does).

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  36. Yuuki12on 21 Apr 2013 at 4:16 pm

    @B. Mckenzie

    Again, thank you very much for responding to my post. I am glad my strategy is an effective one. Given that it is a short story, I wish to make the full use of whatever is written.

    That said, allow me to address your second point. The character trait that were to be implied by my character’s hat was notably her hot-temper (the crystals on her hat, I described were like dancing flames).

    Also, the snake earrings were to represent how acute she was. Given that snakes in some cultures are represented as observant creatures, that was one one thing I wished for them to symbolize. Also, the idea that like a snake, Jenny would lash out, if angered.

    But I can understand how those notions could be confusing, given I wasn’t specific.

    That said, in regards to questions I do have one big one. This involves “Show,don’t tell”.

    Now, for granted, I understand what the notion is(after watching a youtube video on the idea). However, what I am confused is when you specifically tell something.

    I believe my problem as a writer involves showing too much, and not telling enough. Take for example emotions. For Jenny, there are times (usually when she’s alone), when I outright say she is angry (even after showing signs, narrowed eyes, clenched fists etc.).

    However, there are other times, when she’s interacting with others, that I don’t outright say it, but imply it with actions, like her raising her voice, or displaying her powers(these being solar manipulation).

    My question specifically is how do I approach “Show don’t tell” within the context of a short story, where everything must be so tight, but sometimes showing requires you to extend on your thoughts?

  37. Tricksteron 02 Jan 2014 at 4:58 am

    I do remember hair/eye colour and I’m pissed when the movie f***s it up (99% of time). But it doesn’t have to be told right when the character shows up. Details can come in small doses, scattered throughout the story.

  38. niotpodaon 28 Feb 2014 at 11:31 am

    Katniss: brown eyes
    Peeta: blue eyes
    Gale: brown again
    Tiffany Aching: brown eyes
    (I always remember main characters’ eye colors.)

  39. Jed/Elecon 01 Mar 2014 at 2:20 am

    “Clothing color? In some cases, color may provide useful information to a reader–wearing relatively conservative clothes at a hacker convention might be a sign that a character is an undercover agent or perhaps a football fan is so wildly intense that he refuses to wear red because it is the color of The Enemy. However, in most cases I think most of the space spent on clothing color is wasted.”

    At the beginning of my novel, my main character wears “a colourless T-shirt and a faded pair of grey shorts with a tear in the side.” It’s all the clothing he owns. I feel that this information is important in establishing his poverty (he’s an orphan), but I’d appreciate other thoughts on whether or not it is important. Thanks!

  40. Frenzyon 02 Mar 2014 at 2:50 pm

    In terms of a character’s appearance, I don’t really think it matters whether it’s mentioned or not. And by that, I mean I don’t mind reading them… as long as there isn’t an entire paragraph dedicated to describing a character. You could just say “[Insert name here] ran his/her hands through his/her whatever coloured hair.” Or something like “[Insert name here]’s whatever coloured hair was a wild mess as blah blah.”

    That being said, I agree that it isn’t really necessary to even mention much of a character’s appearance unless it’s important to the story. For example… I don’t know… Say a character has silver eyes that shine in the darkness, but is incredibly sensitive to light so has to wear black-tinted goggles during the day… I’d say that’s worth mentioning… That… That may or may not be my main character.

    That being said, again, when creating my characters I do include their appearance in my character sheet (I would imagine most other people would do this too). Also, because I do want to eventually draw up at least the main characters, character descriptions do tend to seep into my writing. But I at least try not to dump a characters entire description into one block of text.

    Oh! I would also say that my cat-man would probably need just a tad bit of description. You know… fur, tail and all that business… And for the record, Cat-man is definitely not his name. 🙂

    I can also say that I’m guilty of some of my characters having the unusual eye colours, and a couple with unusual hair… I don’t particularly want to describe so many characters, but… yeah… :p

    At any rate, I can understand why authors would want to describe their characters in detail, but I also don’t really see the point in it (Don’t worry, I can hear the hypocrisy myself :D). I was having a conversation on Twitter a long while back, and someone wanted to know how she could make it so a reader could picture her characters as she does. In the end we agreed that that was more or less impossible unless it was a picture book. So with that being said, I think even with character descriptions readers can still use their imagination, contrary to what some of the earlier posts here say.

  41. B. McKenzieon 02 Mar 2014 at 3:45 pm

    “I was having a conversation on Twitter a long while back, and someone wanted to know how she could make it so a reader could picture her characters as she does. In the end we agreed that that was more or less impossible…” I agree. Fortunately, it rarely matters whether readers picture the characters like the author does. In the few cases where it actually does matter (e.g. if it’s plot-relevant who’s black and who’s white), readers will probably have a lot more context to remind them than they would have about, say, which color Atticus Finch’s eyes are.

    PS: Quite a lot of people have trouble describing what THEY look like. E.g. here’s a social experiment by Dove which found that ladies describing their appearance tended to have a harder time describing what they look like than a random stranger who met them once.

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