Tuesday, September 22, 2009

He had green eyes and brown hair.

There's so many different ways to describe characters. You can list off all of their physical attributes; hair color, eye color, stature, build, or bone structure. You can describe how they walk, how they talk, or how they eat their food. The list goes on.

With my new WIP I didn't realize there were no physical descriptions of my characters until my niece said what color hair does Oliver have?

I don't know
, was my response.

I guess I've never been able to see what my characters look like, at least not at first. (It would probably help if I could draw like Natalie does - what a wonderful talent). I see them as who they are; they're personalities, weaknesses, strengths. What they look like is almost secondary to me.

In my current project I actually don't describe what the main character looks like until chapter two and the other main character until chapter four.

What do you think? Do you need that physical description to connect with the characters, or can it wait?

17 comments:

MeganRebekah said...

I'm pretty much the same way. I have a much stronger connection to their personality and their backgrounds than their looks. I do know hair and eye color but that's about it. And overall, what does that really tell?

I kind of like that mystery though. It makes them more versatile.

And I too am totally jealous of Natalie's skills!

Natalie said...

I do really broad physical descriptions too. I think we can leave some of the character's appearance up to the reader. I agree that personality is what's important for connecting to a character (Just like it should be in real life).

Jessie Oliveros said...

I have a general description of my MC in the second chapter. That's a good question about timing, though. It can't be so late that the reader has already formed an idea of what the character looks like and then your description dispels that.

strugglingwriter said...

"I guess I've never been able to see what my characters look like, at least not at first."

I'm exactly the same way and am working on this. I'm not really sure the best way to do this.

Natalie said...

I guess maybe it's because I'm an artist that I make it a point to know what my characters look like.

As much as we don't want to admit it, appearance effects us as people. Even as a little girl I remember how people would say my sister was beautiful, but I was just "pretty." That had a huge affect on how I treated my sis (not nice) and how I viewed myself.

So for me, appearance becomes a huge part of character. Weather you are short or fat or tan or blonde changes the way you see the world in the smallest way. And having written an invisible character, I've learned that much more how appearance grounds your identity.

Patti said...

Megan: I think you draw a strong connection to character based on personality.

Natalie: i agree, leaving a few things up to the reader is a good idea.

Jessie: It's all about timing, but isn't everything when you're trying to tell a story.,

SW: I guess I don't worry about appearances right away, focus on character building and put in appearance later.

Natalie: good point. It does play a part in how a character feels about themselves.

Lazy Writer said...

I don't do a straight out description. I spread it out. Like duting one scene I might say something like, "He ran a hand through his disheveled, blond hair." And then later say something about his eye color. I like to have a visual image of my characters, but according to Stephen King, physical appearance is of no importance.

Patti said...

Susan: i think that's the best way to do it, describe through action.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

I've been told the same thing that Jessie wrote, that we need to get some description into our manuscripts relatively early. If the reader sees our characters one way and we reveal some physical characteristic later that doesn't match up with the reader's image, it can pull him or her out of the story.

I like your blog. :) Thanks for visiting mine.

Mim said...

In my first book, I didn't do a ton of description. I think it is easier for the person to project themselves into the story if the details are kind of vague, but I've gotten tons of requests for more specific details.

So in my next novel I'm adding more description, but still vague. I don't go into details like the shape of the nose or how many freckles or the mysterious birthmark on the wrist.

Good question!

lauraabest said...

I was actually thinking about that the other day, the fact that I used very little physical description for the characters in my novel..Nimbus didn't seem to mind, however.

For me,I connect with my characters on an emotional level.

Patti said...

Dawn: I had a friend tell me you have one chance to physically describe the character then that's it, don't go back to it.

Mim: I like the idea of being more detailed in the description. Suggest unusual things that make them stand out. I need more practice at doing that.

Laura: It's amazing what different publishers like, I guess that's why there's so many different books.

Heidi Willis said...

one of my writing partners pointed that out to me about my book too. Three of the four characters had no description.

"What do they look like?"

My response? "I don't know. What do they look like to you?"

I guess because I don't need someone to tell me what their characters look like in their books, I figured everyone else felt that way too. I guess not. :)

I'm trying a little harder on this one. The main character has not-naturally blond hair and the guy has Caribbean colored eyes. That's about as far as I've gotten.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. It's nice to meet you. For this one, I think it is nice to have descriptions fairly early of most characters, but it's not entirely necessary. There is a theory that, in some cases, it's better not to describe you main character/narrator because then the reader can put himself in that role. It's funny that you didn't describe because you didn't know what they looked like. I often don't describe because I see them so vividly that I forget that the reader can't see them unless I describe them.

Patti said...

Lotusgirl: I have that problem when I describe settings. I can see it clearly so I think my descriptions are enough, but I have to remember they aren't inside my mind.

Kasie West said...

I like to know what people look like. But it doesn't have to be right away. Most important is who they are.

jenniferneri said...

I like to have hints of the characters I am reading about. Funny, but often times I come up with my own physical description of a character that does not match what the author sees.

So far, all my own characters come with a name and a physical description.