Wannabe Writers #12

by Madeleine Rex

It appears I’m finally posting a Wannabe Writers post on a Saturday! (Which, by the way, is the day you’re supposed to.) Wannabe Writers is hosted by Sarah over at Confessions of the Un-Published.

Where I am in the Writing Process: I’m still on my break, but the day for edits is creeping up on me. My mom probably won’t have time to go through it with me until the later half of May, but there’s a chance we can squeeze some time in on the 3oth and 1st. I’m hoping this is the case. I’m trying to decide whether I want to go through it and edit the obvious stuff (ie. deleting a repeat of a word, making sure I used the correct there) before I sit down with her or not. I’ve also been toying around with ideas in my head. I was lucky enough to have nearly an entire novel’s plot slither into my brain about a week ago, but unfortunately, the project will have to be put off. I can’t focus on it right now, and Forbidden needs to be my next project.

My Current Problems: I originally intended to work on a different mini-project during my month of free time, but I haven’t. I haven’t even written a short story. I’m just working on finding the money to subscribe to a possible magazine option. I suppose that, stated simply, my problem is laziness. I’ve earned it, though, right? Just for a month?

The Question this Week: Character descriptions. How do you describe a character’s appearance? And how do you work it into a story without making it sound fake? How much is too much? Why can’t I just say, “she had blue eyes and blond hair” the end? And where do you work it into a story? When your MC first meets said character? And where do you work this in for your MC? And do you even need to work this in for your MC?

Great question, as usual.

I don’t describe my character’s overall looks very thoroughly. I try to create a sense of a real person through smaller details or the strong points of their face. Things that make them stand out. Brownish-red hair is not something I’m going to dwell on. It’s too common and doesn’t reflect character at all. Naturally, I might mention it a few times, but it’s not a focal point of their appearance. For example: Allison (my MC) first saw Mark in a school picture. When we look at pictures, it’s slightly different than when we look at the actual person. We examine them when we look at their picture. This allowed me to mention that his hair was “windblown… looked like hot chocolate with the whipped cream stirred in”. Yet, it was his slightly large mole on his nose and his empty earring piercing that stood out in the description. It’s the little things. Later on, his eyes and the fact that they seemed to reflect light when there wasn’t any became his physical focal point. His eyes and their light-finding ways were symbolic.

On the other hand, you have June. June is Allison’s best friend, and I can’t even remember if I mentioned what she looked like at all. It didn’t matter. Her character was so strong in its likability that I think her near faceless-ness is ideal. I want readers to think of her as a friend and to have their way with her.

Am I making any sense? I suppose what I’m trying to say is, no, “blond hair and blue eyes” is not enough. That is not a person. Or a face, for that matter. People need to be distinguishable. June was so much so that her face didn’t matter. She was the friend whose face I wanted every reader to create. I wanted the reader to imagine a face that seemed friendly and welcoming to them particularly. I’d say that you either want relatively nothing in the way of physical description (as with June), or you want to focus on the individually significant features (as with Mark).

With Allison, I mentioned differences in appearance. When she looks in a mirror near the end, she mentions her sallowness. Those things effected the story and reflected her growth in one direction or another.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t mention your MC’s blond hair, but if they have, let’s say, rough hands with dirt under the fingernails from digging for lost treasure, I’d mention that, too. It’s a part of them that is individual. Unique. It expresses character, just as Mark’s light-finding eyes do. June’s lack of facial description expressed her relatable nature.

I believe that whenever you’re dealing with characters, their originality is key. Focus on their original features as well. Go ahead and mention that they have black hair. Make it come alive, though. Don’t forget to mention that their black hair is always neatly braided into four braids with pink bows on the ends or that they have a tear-shaped birthmark  near their collarbone.

Maybe you should look in the mirror and described yourself in full detail. When you’re finished, sit down and weed out the things that don’t matter. Use yourself as an example. Try to use as little words as possible while still expressing who you know yourself to be and what you believe is individual about your face. I would mention my massive amount of curly brown hair because it’s not just brown hair. It’s a lion’s mane. I’d mention that my eyes turn downward at the corners instead of upward, etc. Finding out what it takes to make you you will help you determine what is needed to describe a character sufficiently.

5 Commentsto “Wannabe Writers #12”

  1. Good advice! I really don't even like *reading* character descriptions, so it's very hard to write them.

    My post is up as well!

  2. Excellent point re: character descriptions. I love the idea of leaving the best friend nearly descriptionless — every reader will just implant the person they know with the same personality and that way it will mean so much more to them! Really thoughtful.

    I think your description exercise sounds like such a great idea — I'm going to try that later when I get home! And yes, for one month, I think you can relax 😉

  3. Excellent advice. I agree with you wholeheartedly. It's very interesting that most people have difficulty describing themselves when asked. If you've ever perused online dating ads you'd know what I mean. Which only goes to show that the supposed importance that's being placed on looks usually doesn't register in the same manner in real life. Much like you, I prefer to keep things real. And whenever I'm describing someone there's always splashes of character involved – tiny details about his persona that I'm enamored with.

    As for the break, enjoy it. Editing time is fast approaching and you'll long for these free moments.

  4. Thanks for the advice. Yeah I don't usually care for it much when I read. Maybe that's why I tend to leave it out.

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