Character Description-1 Big Mistake and 5 Alternatives

This new schedule of working from home has really thrown me for a loop. As an introvert, I love it! But it is an adjustment period. I’m teaching from home which is cool. I’m reasonably tech savvy so that’s cool. But I used to work on these blog posts during my 20 minute lunch break each day. Lately, working at home, I’ve often forgotten to eat. I can only remember what day it is if I look at my calendar. So Friday blew right past me this week. I will do better this week. Promise!

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This means if you click on an Amazon link and make a purchase, I get a small commission at no cost to you. (It supports my book habit.)
I promise to only link only products I believe you will love and are related to books, writing, or general geekery. Click on the images to go to Amazon and purchase items.

The other reason is I have a little side project I’m creating. I’ve been taking a class in the evenings to learn how to do this. More information on that coming soon!

Heart of the Story

As explored last week, characters are the heart of our stories. We gravitate toward like minded people, even fictional ones. Some of my best friends, the ones who get me, who think like me, who yearn like me, are fictional characters.

Think of Anne of Green Gables. Who hasn’t made mistakes before? We promise to not make mistakes again, only to turn right around and make an even bigger mistake! Who hasn’t had a Mrs. Blewett in her life, or contrastingly, a Matthew Cuthbert?






How about Smile by Raina Telgemeier? Many of us lucky souls, have experienced the pain of braces, headgear, and maybe even a broken tooth. We can relate to the agony of walking in to school, not knowing how we will be received.


I read somewhere this week that if you are one in a million and there are something like 7 billion people in the world, then there are 7,000 people like you. So write a character like you and 7,000 people will totally relate! Others will probably relate to some of your more universal experiences.

Character Description Don’t

Now let’s talk about that mistake I mentioned in the title

Deep Dive into Description: Character Description

Please, please, please, when you want to describe your main character do not have him or her look in a mirror or a watery surface or any similar reflective surface. As a reader, authors who do this get put on the DNF list. It has been so over done. It’s lazy writing.

What’s worse is when someone tells you not to do something but doesn’t give you alternative methods. So here you go…

Character Description DOs

Comparison

A book I read recently had the MC look at another person and mentally compared herself to the other person. This works well when the MC feels inferior or superior to the other character.

I looked enviously at her too-perfect silken curls as I twirled my flat, ashy hair.

Other Characters Drop Hints

Have supporting characters drop clues about their appearance. For example:

“Hey, Agatha, come put those thin fingers to work on picking this lock would ya?”
“Joseph, quit tossing those luscious locks around in front of the mirror. Let’s go!”

Just be subtle about it. If you have to leave aspects of the character’s appearance to the imagination, that is okay.

Where They are From

You don’t always have to tell about their physical appearance. The reader can assume appearance based on where they are from or based on their culture.

Occupation

Amazon linked

If the character is a blacksmith, I can safely assume they are a big guy or gal. If they are a stable boy I can probably assume they are a smaller size person. If the character breaks the typical mold, then you probably ought to mention that. Maybe they are a scrawny blacksmith, so you might mention that they are having trouble lifting the hammers.

By Their Actions

If a character gracefully flows down the stairs, it creates one image in your mind.

If a pregnant character waddles down the stairs, it creates a different image in your mind. Plus this even tells you that the pregnant character is in her late stages of pregnancy too.

Ellen descended the stairs like an angel. I, however, climbed the stairs to meet her with all the grace of a newborn giraffe.

When I read that I picture a beautiful woman and the person meeting her on the stairs is gangly and awkward.

Word Choice

Word choice can be the most powerful tool. I’m not only talking about adjectives. Verbs. Verbs can pack a punch.

  • He ambled down the stairs.
  • She glided down the stairs.
  • His eyes roamed the room looking for his love as he descended the stairs.
  • She tried to glide but instead tripped and rolled down the stars, landing with a thump at the bottom.
  • He chose to avoid the stairs. Instead, he slunk in through the servant’s door unseen or rather unnoticed. He observed the events of the ball from the shadows until he spotted his mark.
  • She dreaded the stairs leading into the ballroom. Once in, she sought the hallway leading to the library.
Amazon Linked

Each one of these can subtly create an image of a person based on the word choice you use.


There are many more ways but, I’m out of steam for today. Very likely we’ll talk about this more sometime.

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