My thoughts on writing tips found online and in published works (with some random thoughts thrown into the mix).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Describing your Characters

During my daily blog-reading travels, I came across a post on The Bookshelf Muse blog by Angela Ackerman that I would like to share. The post, entitled "Physical Attribute Entry: Teeth", sparked my mind to think about the general idea presented at the beginning of the post. To find the full text, please visit:

Before talking about how to describe a character's teeth, the blogger points out how difficult it is to really nail down a good character description. In her own words, "too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image." So, that begs the question, how do you find the balance?

When you are writing, you can picture your character as if they were physically standing before you. You could describe every feature, every hair, and every freckle. You could go on and on about how they dress, the way they walk, the particular accent they showcase when they speak, and how they hold their hands at their side. For you, the character is a real person that is unique and complex.

Some writers end up coming up with a list-like description because they want the reader to see the character the exact way they do, down to the very last detail. They want to recreate the person they see and force the reader to do the same. The fact is, however, that the reader will never see EXACTLY what you see, even if you draw a picture to put in the book or make an animated mini-movie. They will use their imagination to come up with their own version of the character. The best you can do is to describe the character in a way that will bring the two interpretations together.

To put it simply, you have to find a few key things that will bring out the essence of the character and his/her personality. For example, take Jack from the movie "Titanic." If you were to recreate him in a novel, your best chance of reaching synergy with the reader would be to pick out the things that make him "Jack." Instead of writing down a list describing every attribute of his hair, you must narrow it down. For instance, you could describe his love of having fun, his gorgeous smile, and his laid-back stance.

The best thing you can do for your character descriptions is to come to terms with the fact that your vision and that of the reader will never be the same. Accept that they will always be a little different, that the best you can do is get close to the image in your head, and your characterization will increase dramatically.


  1. I was just talking about this today with some people. You raise some excellent points. It's a fine line between listing character attributes and giving enough information to tantalize the imagination. Thanks for sharing!