Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Appearances are...

Aesop said: Appearance are often deceiving. Hmm. What about lack of appearances?

I've come across a lot of people discussing description of characters around the Bloggy-verse lately. And the comments are flitting around in my brain while I'm revising my Steampunk.

I've come across exactly 4 references to physical description of my 2 main characters in my ms. One is to the female's eye colour, the other three are size references. The size references are because she can't reach something she needs, people move out of his way, and she can squeeze into a small space.

That's it. No hair colour. No description of their faces, other than her eyes remind him of something. Even though there's an element of romance, neither character waxes poetic about the other's face or phsyique.

When I'm reading, I prefer to make up my own mind about characters. I prefer to create pictures based on their actions and words. So that's the way I write.

But... is this going to drive people batty? There are places I could incorporate more physical description of course, but to me it's just not important to the story.

Some of my favourite authors use a fair amount of character description, others use it rarely. When there is a lot, I tend to skim through it or skip right over it. One of favourite authors uses some description, but not a lot. I have a great image of one recurring character in my head. Then she tells me he's a blonde - which is NOT how I've pictured him. Thankfully she doesn't mention it often, but I shake my head each time she says it. He's much more suited to a darker complexion! :)

So what's your preference when reading and writing? Do you like having the author tell or show you what a character looks like, or do you prefer to make up your own mind?

138 comments:

  1. I too dislike a complete description of each character. I find it confusing and am unable to work out who is who because I haven't 'created' a mental picture of them.

    In my writing I prefer to pick on one aspect that describes my own characters. It might be the skirt she's wearing, the way he runs his fingers through his hair when he's nervous and then readers can fill in the rest themselves.

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  2. Generalities work for me. I like seeing the authors visual of her characters - as long as it's not overdone. Physical traits tend to go hand in hand with personality to a degree.

    So yeah description is good. If it's written well enough, you can still let your imagination take 'some' liberties with how you perceive a character ( middle ground per-say). (Hugs)Indigo

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  3. Rosalind - yes - my characters have physical quirks too. The male mc rubs his hands over his face and through his hair when frustrated, the female's hands move a lot when she's worked up.

    Hopefully it'll be enough for the readers! :)

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  4. I don't really like it when authors get too detailed in character descriptions. Some generalities, maybe one or two bits of specific info (eye color or hair or whatever) work best for me. Though I do like to know how they dress, what they prefer to wear. Sounds like your general character description would work for me!

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  5. Indigo - the middle ground is almost always a good place to be.

    I think I've got enough mannerisms to give people an idea - along with the dialogue that I think is pretty distinctive for each character. Thanks!

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  6. Mary - that's pretty much me too. I do mention clothing on occasion - especially when the female needs to disguise herself. And once when things are getting a little intimate :)

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  7. I like to make my own mind up, have my own description, so although the character belongs to the author only "Me know who he/she looks like,

    Yvonne,

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  8. I like generalities as well. The basic info and the all-important defining scar or "every changing hair color" when it come to physical descriptions. When some write about the guy that made their heart go pitter –pat. Tall surfer with the endearing smile or the dark mysterious man with intense eyes let’s me fill in the blanks with my personal taste. You get more bang for your buck so to speak!

    But I have read books that detail it out – high forehead, small nose, large blue eyes, short neck, etc. It’s list a list of unnecessary traits.

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  9. Yvonne - love it! You're right - I'd know them if I met them on the street - but my image probably doesn't match anyone else's! :)

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  10. Holly - that's how I feel too - a list of traits. Drives me a little crazy when it goes on for paragraphs. I keep wanting to scream "I don't care!" Glad I'm not alone :)

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  11. I didn't pour a lot of description into my main characters in CassaStar. Hope readers enjoy coming up with their own visual. If not, I'm screwed!

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  12. Alex - that's kinda what I'm worried about! But when I read, I much prefer to come up with my own images. Much more fun! :)

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  13. I like to come up with my own description. But I've been called out many times by crit partner etc for not having enough description! So I try to add more in now.

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  14. Talli - I do too. My crit buddies haven't said anything... yet... so maybe it's not a problem. I hate to point out potential problems, but maybe I should :)

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  15. A snippet of a description, maybe some quirk that the reader would remember or that might be pertinent for the story. But for the most part, what's the point? I don't remember the physical descriptions. I skip over them the way I skip a lot of mundane description that doesn't do anything to advance the plot or the character relationships. See Orson Scott Card's discussion of this very thing in his book Characters & Viewpoint.

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  16. I think a vagueness lets the reader put his or her own views of the character. Point out the things that are important to the story and to the character. My main character in NEVER described but lots of my secondary characters are.

    readers are smarter than writers give them credit for. Let them insert their own ideas in once and a while.

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  17. I prefer generalities, because every person's mental picture of "dark and handsome" or "frumpy" or "innocent" looks differently. More powerful to let the reader create the image themselves.

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  18. Ann - you're relieving my mind. I love Orson Scott Card's work and if he says description isn't necessary, I'm thrilled! The people themselves are so much more fun to deal with than the descriptions :)

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  19. Erinn - you're so right - readers are smart. I hate when an author treats me like an idiot! :)

    Interesting point about the secondary characters. They too often have something distinctive to identify them physically. Makes it easier for me in my head & hopefully the reader's head too :)

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  20. Sarah - so true. If I have a strong image in my head, it's generally because I've created it - and that's because the author let me. Great point! :)

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  21. Give me generalities and a quirk or two but I prefer to see the character in my own mind.
    I sure hope other readers are like me!

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  22. Mary - I'm relieved to say that so far the readers of this blog agree! I think most readers have great imaginations and we enjoy using them! :)

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  23. I prefer generalities with characters' descriptions, also, although do like a specific detail or two to keep myself grounded. :)

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  24. No, I actually prefer less description with regards to physical appearance, too. I sometimes get an image based on their personality or name and hate for that to be broken by the author. :)

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  25. Wandered over here from Kathi Oram Peterson's blog, and just thought I'd chime in. I don't include too much physical description (just eye and hair color, usually, if there's an obvious place to mention it), and I always roll my eyes when books, as you say, wax poetic about the characters' appearances.

    P.S. I noticed a few posts farther down that you're a tennis addict. Me, too. My secret - er, not-so-secret anymore:) - dream is to be a ball girl at Wimbledon. Just a ball girl. Too much pressure on the line judges - and I'd hate to get on Serena Williams's bad side:)

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  26. I don't really have a preference. I don't like pages and pages of description and I don't like repeated descriptions. When I was younger and first exploring writing, I would give about a paragraph of physical description and leave it at that. Now, unless it's absolutely necessary to do it in bulk, I drop description into the narrative. It flows better, in my opinion, and doesn't overwhelm the reader.

    I <3 tennis, too!

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  27. ...something I've been working on lately, secondary characters with small but interesting roles throughout the story get a more descriptive visual in their opening scenes. "He walked with a crook in his back, his face pointed downward as if putting one foot in front of the other demanded concentration. And when he spoke, I thought of sandpaper grinding a block of hickory."
    ...with main characters however, I've been nurturing their descriptions throughout the story, adding a little here, a little there, pieces of a puzzle that a reader can slowly adapt to while absorbing. It's a trick I've learned from my "old school" editor, and so far its worked out:)

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  28. I'd have to say I like it both ways. Some stories seem to call for more physical description while others don't. If I'm reading something that doesn't require a lot of description and the author goes into great detail, I tend to skim over it too.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  29. I don't like a lot of physical description unless it matters to the story. A physical detail that impacts how a character moves (a limp for example) or how others react to the character (if you have a girl or boy who is astonishingly beautiful) then I think it's important to put in more description. Still, l prefer it to be shown not told - as you do with your character who is unable to reach certain objects. So much better than just telling the reader she's short.

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  30. A lot of description isn't really necessary because your mind will form a picture just on the basics. We all see different things when we read.

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  31. It's really hard to say. Somehow, characters come alive in my head but I am not sure how much of their appearance is controlled by the author... I am not making much sense here Jemi, am I?

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  32. I also don't like a complete description. I like to imagine a bit on my own. But when I do this in my own writing, there is always one person who reads it and wants more description! You can never please everybody!

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  33. Sandy - yes a few specifics seem to be important - just something to hang the character on I guess. Thanks :)

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  34. Jennifer - exactly - it doesn't take long for me to create that character based on dialogue or actions. Then if the author tells me I'm wrong, I tend to ignore them - the character is already 'there'!

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  35. Krista - love it! I think a snippet or two is probably enough for most people!

    I agree - wouldn't want to be a line judge for all the tea in China - and I love my tea! I've always wanted to be a ball girl as well. It would be a thrill!

    Thanks so much for stopping by :)

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  36. E - Yay - another tennis fan!! :)

    I agree -sometimes there is a need for a physical description, but not often. And I like sneaking the descriptions in the flow of the story. Great points!

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  37. Elliot - I like the way you describe the description! :) Bit by bit to complete the puzzle - perfect!

    My 2ndary characters tend to get a description as well. In fact one of my MCs identifies some of the others by descriptors - Limper, Dusty-Pants... :)

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  38. Mason - I do the same thing - skim if it doesn't work.

    One of my faves is Anne of GG and that book is loaded with descriptions. I think it most definitely works in that situation.

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  39. VR - I agree - it's so much more fun to discover the character rather than be told about him or her!

    I like when details are slid in subtly - I don't need to be conked over the head!

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  40. Writing Nut - I agree - we make our own images - and don't need too much direction from the author - unless it's important to the story :)

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  41. I try not to get too bogged down in the details either. I might sprinkle in things like, "the veil of my dark hair, hid my frustrated expression from view". Little bits of info here and there.

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  42. Agnes - I think you are. Characters, at least well-written ones, do come alive for me too. And I don't rely on the author to give me a physical description. I think I learn more about them through their actions and words.

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  43. Lydia - so true! I bet there are a lot of people who like the description. Maybe as writers we're so used to picturing folks in our heads that we don't need as much help as others. :)

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  44. Lisa - I like that example. It's so much more fun to have something thrown in that way than to have it laid out step-by-step for us :)

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  45. I like it general or more I don't know - poetic isn't quite the word but I'd rather hear about a gesture they make so I get a sense of their energy which is specific and physical but not so limiting. Or a comparison to an animal. Perhaps that is because I can never remember the specifics others do - it isn't how I think of someone - it might be just the softness of their shoulder line or the wiriness of their hair rather than 'blonde, blue-eyed, svelte' kind of gaack. but hey, that's just me - I'm kind of like a setter - rangy and a bit graceful but clumsy at the same time.

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  46. When I read a book I like to have my own mental picture of what the characters look like. When I write, I give animals lots of description but not humans! hehe

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  47. Jan - lol :) Love your descriptions.

    I agree - I think actions, movements and emotions tell us much more about a person than physical stuff. But then again, for me, it's all about the emotion :)

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  48. Niki - love it! Your animals are like my secondary characters - they get more description than my main folks :)

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  49. I don' think there is truly one I prefer over the other but I suppose off the top of my head I would like to go and form my own opinion, imagination is something many of us don't get to use so when picking up a book I love to just imagine what they look like rather than being told!

    Awesome post!

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  50. to my mind, less is more, as they say... and do take most of elmore's advice to heart:

    Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

    1. Never open a book with weather.
    2. Avoid prologues.
    3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
    4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said", he admonished gravely.
    5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
    6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
    7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
    8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
    9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
    10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

    My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

    If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
    — Elmore Leonard

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  51. Thanks Jen :)

    Sometimes it just comes down to the author's voice and the story for me. Even though I prefer limited description I love Anne of GG and the Lord of the Rings - go figure :)

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  52. Laughing Wolf - I LOVE that list! #10 is the best - although I love the last comment as well. The story and the characters should bring me in - I shouldn't notice the writing! :)

    Thanks for sharing!

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  53. I do describe my characters at some point usually, though I've noticed that the more I write the less I do that. I think I describe more if it is important in some way - like you said, you might need to know she's small so she can fit somewhere no one else really would.

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  54. Lisa Gail - I like it best that way - if the description is important to the story itself, in it goes. :)

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  55. Hmmmm .... I think I must like to make up my own mind too because there have been occasions when I have later seen a picture based on that character and thought "s/he doesn't look like that at all" so obviously I have created a look for the character that was not based on the author's description.

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  56. This is a fine line for me. I need enough description to help me cement the character in my mind, especially if there a many characters. But I do like using my imagination to fill in the blanks. If the writer gives me at least one distinctive description (un-trimmed eyebrows, droopy shoulders, bow-legged), I'm usually good. :)

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  57. Beth - I do that all the time too. I'm always terrified when someone makes a movie out of a favourite book. It's so hard for them to match my image!

    LotR did a pretty good job though!

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  58. DL - it does seem most people want at least a little bit of description. I tend to rely on mannerisms and dialogue more - but maybe I need a bit more physical stuff in there. Thanks!

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  59. Love the faces!
    I tend to describe characters with action and by what they say and how they say it.
    Fun post!

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  60. I suppose I would rather have less description. But, honestly, even if there are specifics, if I see the character a different way--blonde or tall, etc.--I'll see them that way no matter what the author writes.

    But don't leave too much out--pick one feature at least, to get the ball rolling in the reader's mind and to show that you see them on some level. That would be my only advice.

    Michele
    Southern City Mysteries

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  61. Kathi - thanks :)

    I think because I work on such an emotional level that actions, words and mannerisms say a LOT about the characters - enough to give me a solid image of them anyway :)

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  62. I totally skim description! So yes, I write less description than I probably should. Fortunately my crit partners point out places where I need more.

    Interesting post!

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  63. Thanks Michele.

    The characters do have quirks and ways of speaking and habits that identify them, but I think I'll have to add a little something physical for my male mc - the only thing so far is his size.

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  64. Thanks Janet :)

    My crit buddies haven't mentioned the lack of description as a problem yet - so maybe I've got enough. But adding a tweak here and there wouldn't hurt!

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  65. Wow. After reading your post and all of the comments I'm a little relieved. When I read your title I thought, "Oh no, here it comes. I'm gonna find out I'm not giving enough description!" But the consensus seems to be to keep it general. Phew!

    Thanks for a great post and discussion, Olivia

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  66. I like some description so that I can get a sense of the characters, but not every single eyelash and freckle, unless of course the freckles can be connected into a treasure map. :)

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  67. Thanks Olivia!

    I was a little bitty nervous too! I know what I prefer, but I wasn't sure about the general consensus. Seems we're okay! :)

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  68. Julie - a treasure map! I like it :)

    You're right - we need something as an anchor, but the anchor shouldn't be dragging us down!

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  69. this is a good point - it doesn't bother me whether the writer tells me the details or not - I'll find my own mind image... but now that you've mentioned it... I realise I don't give a whole lot of descriptions when I write. I hope people can form an image with the actions I describe.... interesting.

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  70. I like generalities mostly; but want it early in the novel, before I get too much of a mental picture. But it doesn't bother me to have the indepth description either. I'm character driven reader and writer, and I want that mental image throughout. But I don't care if you give me a basic template to build my own model, or vividly draw the character out.

    But I'm sure there's lots of arguments for both ways. Personal preference, you know. I'd say you have to go with you own gut feeling, your style. Someone is always going to be unhappy. You only need please your own vision; and then the editor willing to publish you.

    .......dhole

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  71. I don't like a complete description of characters, but I often find it better that an author reveals how a character looks like gradually until the reader can picture the character with ease.

    I'm a "show me, don't tell me" type of guy, so I don't like the mountains of description about characters.

    Write on and read on!

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  72. I just like a sketchy picture...that way readers can fill in the blanks and make the character their own! That way the character can remind them of their Uncle Harry or whomever--and they have more of a connection to the character. Or, that's what I *hope*, anyway!

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  73. Michelle - thanks :)

    Less description works for me as I tend to skim over it if there's a lot anyway. Physical appearance is low on the list of how I get to know my characters.

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  74. Donna - so true! :)

    I do think it's personal preference - and probably innate learning style as well. I'm more of a kinesthetic learner so action matters more to me.

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  75. Vatche - I much prefer the 'show me' style as well. The visuals aren't as important for me as the emotionals either. But I do like a hint :)

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  76. Elizabeth - I like your phrasing! I know with your Pretty is as Pretty Dies, I have the best image of Myrtle - and yes she's very much like a neighbour of mine :)

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  77. I like a little bit. I want to be able to picture them, and I don't want to be surprised when I've pictured them one way and then find out they look different that what I imagined.

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  78. Elana - that's how I feel with that recurring character. I'm sure I would have noticed early on if he was blonde! Drives me crazy.

    So, I think my male MC is going to get a hair colour comment somewhere early on. :)

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  79. Give me a hint and I'll make it my own. I dislike oodles of description and I don't care what the writer had in mind. I decide for myself what my MC looks like. Maybe that's why I don't watch many movies. I get frustrated with someone else filling in all the details for me.

    Great post.

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  80. Cat - lol :) - exactly - our own impressions are what's going to stick in our minds anyway. So, why should we bog down our readers?

    I like the hints layered in throughout the novel best.

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  81. I do like the basics, if the writer can fit them in organically, without pulling me out of the story. A bit here and there, but only enough so I can feel anchored and then create the character in my head by filling in the blanks.

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  82. Helen - That's a good way to describe it. I hate it when an author pulls me out of the story - drives me batty - which partially explains my aversion to a lot of description.

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  83. Hey Jemi, saw your comment on my blog and stopped by to become your newest follower.

    Anyway I crave description - probably too much. I love it when I read but I think I do it too much when I write. It is nice to leave some room to imagination but too much is ... too much.

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  84. I skim over description when I'm reading too, and I've noticed that in my writing, I don't tend to describe much at all.

    I've had moments like the one you described, where I have an image of a character formed in my mind, and then the author will describe something that's a complete mismatch to my image, which really pulls me out of the story.

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  85. Thanks Matthew!

    It's hard to know where the line is. If I'm reading fantasy, I like having some description of the world - otherwise it's just not there. For instance, I have great visuals of McCaffrey's Pern.

    But if the setting is the modern world, I don't need or want as much.

    Thanks for dropping by. :)

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  86. Belle - I agree - if the description isn't early enough (or if I skimmed over it!) it throws me off when it's mentioned later. Not fun :)

    I'd rather not have the description at all in that case.

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  87. I prefer to have a description of a character's physical and personal makeup unfold across the book. Leave something for the imagination but also leave the door open for twists and turns in the plot that can be introduced with a new facet of the character.

    Stephen Tremp

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  88. Stephen - I like that. I find actions and movements easier to reveal character - and it's so much fun to do it this way.

    Appearance apparently doesn't mean a whole lot to me.

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  89. As a reader, I need some description or they literally have a blank face. But sometimes there's enough hint that I fill the person in without realizing it. Stephen King says he's a physical description minimalist. His editor complained, but had a description of the character, which proved King's point. That may be what you've done too.

    I'm sick of every character having blue eyes. Or black eyes or whatever. And it comes up on every page. Once is enough. And do they almost ALL have to have blue eyes to be attractive?

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  90. I like some description, but not too much. Just enough to conjure a vague image in my head. I often find myself thinking that sometimes, when authors over describe their MCs, it gets a little hokey sounding. :)

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  91. I so agree. I prefer more general descriptions because I never pay any attention anyway. It's always a shock when I've been picturing them blonde and then the author mentions they have black hair.
    I try and keep it simple in my own descriptions and maybe only mention one or two details.

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  92. Theresa - I think those stereotypes and overused descriptions are the reason I back away from it. It can be just too much. And you're right - I roll my eyes at blue eyes ... and I have blue eyes myself! :)

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  93. I'm reading RADIANT SHADOWS by Melissa Marr, and boy would I appreciate more physical descriptions. But that's cause most of them aren't human.

    Generally, though, I'm like you, Jemi. I like to use my imagination because chances are good I'm not going to remember the author's descriptions in the first place. So naturally, that's how I write my descriptions, too. I let the readers create their own images for the most part.

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  94. Kimberly - Yes! That's it exactly. It always sounds cheesy or hokey or silly when I add in a straight description. I don't mind adding in subtle mentions that fit with dialogue or action or movement, but to just describe a person, it feels silly!

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  95. Jade - I don't pay much attention unless it's important to the story somehow. :)

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  96. Stina - that made me laugh out loud! I do like description to help me out when I'm reading fantasy or science-fiction too :)

    But if we're talking regular ol' humans I can imagine my own!

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  97. I do like authors that show the physique of the character. Unfortunately sterotypes can form from physical appearances which can be a disadvantage but, I'd argue, an advantage in writing too. For example, twisting the stereotype-like the overweight, geeky guy, gets the gorgeous girl (I'm thinking the movie Hitch)makes the story more interesting. I don't always like descriptions (she had long, dark hair) but I do like showing (she twisted the brown ends of her braid). Great post Jemi. I don't believe there really is any right or wrong way when it comes to description. Creativity is the key, I think.

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  98. Lynn - I like the way you showcased the description - I think that's the best way to do it.

    I think I'm going to have a zip through the first chunk of my ms and see if I can pop in a subtle reference or two to appearances.

    Thanks!

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  99. Good question, Jemi! So long as each character voice is distinct I don't care overmuch for the physical description. If there are impediments and all that I should be able to ascertain such a thing through the narrative. My writing is the same. There are brief and cursory mentions of physical characteristics, but otherwise it's up to the reader. I didn't plan it that way, but as it's only relevant in certain instances belaboring those details was unnecessary.

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  100. Kimberly - exactly - I've only got the mentions in where they're important. I like it that way when I'm reading too.

    But everyone has their own likes and dislikes. I just hate getting bogged down in details.

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  101. I like a little of description when I'm reading. But just enough - sounds like your ms is on to something!
    I had a little in my ms - but the editor insisted I add more.
    Sometimes you don't get to decide.

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  102. Terry Lynn - thanks - I sure hope so.

    I hope I get to the stage where I can work with an editor - that would be AMAZING! :)

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  103. When I was a teenager writing, I used to describe my characters all the way down to the moles on their face. It interested me to know what people look like. Now that I'm pushing 30, I don't focus on those details so much. In my last MS, the reader has a pretty vague description of the heroine--short, dark hair, blue eyes. That's about it. It's a matter of letting the reader's mind go wild.

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  104. I don't like it when an author over describes. The text becomes heavy and boring with that. I like a little bit of description with a few subtle reminders throughout the novel.

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  105. The problem is our wonderful readers -- some want detailed descriptions and some don't. I think you have to develop your own style and voice and not worry too much about what you "should or shouldn't" do.

    For me, I give bare bones descriptions and I only mention how a character is dressed when it says something about the character's personality, habits, and background.

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  106. Sarah - you're so right! As I get older, I include less and less detail as well. I guess we realize appearances aren't all that important as we age.

    But I'm writing for YA... Hmmm.

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  107. Medeia - yes, I find too much description to be heavy and dull as well.

    It seems most people want a few descriptors here and there, especially at the beginning of the book, but that's about it.

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  108. Pat - good advice (as usual)!

    I hadn't really thought that far ahead, but you're right! It all comes down to the readers I guess.

    I like the way you do description - and I think my style is somewhat similar.

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  109. I prefer to let other characters "see" and describe mine. I also like them relatively vague so the reader can insert an image of choice--I think 1) they'll connect better to their 'ideal' and 2) I'm lousy at descriptions to begin with.

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  110. Personally, I don't like much physical description when I read, and therefore don't write it much. But all my crit partners ask for more physical description, and I always end up adding it in at the revision stage...

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  111. Terry - love it! :)

    Having the other characters notice something is one of my favourite ways to write as well. In fact, I think 3 of the 4 physical descriptions I have are done that way!!

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  112. Beth - I agree - and I wouldn't be surprised if I were asked to add more. But I much prefer the minimalist approach. :)

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  113. Personally, I'm also a character-description minimalist. But I fill in some details for the primary characters, generally - some hint about size, hair or eye color, etc. I like when you can envision the character yourself!

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  114. Guinevere - me too. I think as writers, we mostly like to use our imaginations. I wonder what 'regular' readers like best... :)

    Thanks so much for dropping by!

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  115. I don't think I mind either way. If the author gives me a detailed description, that's what my mind sees, but if they don't, my own imagination will give me an image as the story progresses. Sometimes I see it like a movie, and picture a certain actor in the role.
    And I have to say, Tom Hanks was so NOT who I pictured in the Da Vinci Code ;)

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  116. Cate - that's true. I do tend to follow what the author gives me in most circumstances - although I don't always pay that much attention :)

    I never did read the Da Vinci Code, but my daughter said the same thing!

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  117. i definitely don't mind knowing a the general description of the characters, but when authors focus on too much detail it bores me and i usually skim through it.

    i like to be able to imagine some things on my own, too.

    great post!

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  118. Hi Jemi! I do the same thing. I imagine a character a certain way and skip over the description as the way the author has it. ;)

    I'm a bit peeved when an author doesn't mention how the MCs look like. I want to also be able to see them in my thoughts, you know?

    Also, like Stephenie Meyer, she mentions so many trillions of times how handsome Edward is. Ugh! I think she didn't trust the readers to KNOW that fact.

    As for me, I try NOT to mention too many times that Zag has blond hair cuz I already mentioned it in chapter 1. Same with their eye color and how handsome/ugly they are. I don't info dump on their descriptions, but touch on them and even mention it through dialogue.

    Thanks for this fun post, girl! <3

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  119. If it's important to the story that someone have a certain eye or hair color, I'm fine with that. If it's obvious because of a character's ethnicity why bother to tell us the tall, slender Norwegian had blonde hair and blue eyes? The way a character acts or reacts, moves, thinks is much more important to me.

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  120. Thanks Tahereh!

    Too much is ... well, too much. I don't mind some, but don't need much to make up my own mind :)

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  121. Thanks Elizabeth! :)

    I like hints as well, just not piles of info. As you say, a little at the beginning is important - then little bits and pieces here and there.

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  122. C Lee - exactly. I try to only include it if it matters to the story line. I do think I need to add a little for my male mc (hair or eyes??), but it'll just be a bit near the beginning. :)

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  123. I like to balance things, to give some information to prevent your and Elana's surprise. But it's interesting to leave space for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.

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  124. Mari - yes - those surprises aren't fun. I've read over a dozen books in that particular series. I love everything about it - except the hair colour of that 2ndary character! :)

    I do like to fill in those blanks myself!

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  125. I think a little description goes a long way. I like to be told the general idea of someone- sloppy, delicate, purple hair- and then I fill in the blanks. What sucks is when I have a mental image of someone and then the author changes it on me. I got halfway through a book with a very vivid image of the female protagonist (30-ish) and then was told she had a stripe of grey in her hair.

    Not in my head, she didn't.

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  126. Stephanie - yup - that kind of thing drives me nuts If I'm going to get any physical descriptions, I need them to come pretty early on. Otherwise it's just annoying. :)

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  127. I want VERY LITTLE description! And of course, that's the way I write.

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  128. I need descriptions but I need them to be woven into the story rather than as an info-dump. Usually I give up on a story if I haven't formed a clear picture of the protagonist by at least chapter five. That doesn't mean I have to know every single mole but I need to have been given enough hints and clues as to various features that my brain has sketched together an image.
    Other readers are different though so you need to think about who you are writing the story for. Lots of people prefer less description.

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  129. Julie - yay - another fan of minimal! I prefer to make up my own mind as well :)

    Thanks for dropping by!

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  130. Cassandra - you're right the audience is so important! This ms is intended for a YA audience, so it varies as well. I do have more description of the unique items in the story - different tinkerings - but less of the people's physical features.

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  131. As a reader, not only do I like to make my own mind up about the appearance of a character, it's unavoidable.

    If a piece of writing actually starts off by describing a character in detail, I probably wouldn't read it for very long; Likewise, if it didn't grab my imagination enough for me to form my own image of the characters in my own mind, then I probably wouldn't stick with it either.

    So, it tends to be that I have an image within my head that forms as I read, but is pretty much fully formed at an early stage.

    Vague references to particular details of a character's appearance that might appear later on are ok. I can handle those and adjust my own idea accordingly.

    What really hits hard, and is difficult to cope with is when a well-loved book is made into a film and characters in the movie bear no resemblance whatsoever to how I KNOW the characters should really look.

    As a writer: like most people, I tend to only give details of a character's appearance when and where it's necessary in the story. I appreciate that what I write is only a part of the story, and readers will construct the rest with their own ideas about a lot of things, character appearances included.

    What is important though, is for me to have a solid detailed idea of what my character looks like, in my own head, and in my notes & diagrams. I need that for consistency.

    It's all very well letting readers decide on appearances, and then just fine tuning their ideas with the odd described detail, but writing about a character gives me ideas of how they look and occasionally, those ideas may even change as I go along, if I have no solid visual reference. I fear that if I'm not consistent, I may contradict my own descriptive details later in the story. That must be a sure fire way to lose a reader's interest.

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  132. Of course, having said that I like to keep my own appearance type in mind, but then to let the reader decide details for themselves, I'm also aware that when writing in fantasy or sci-fi genres, I'll often be dealing with non-human or semi-human characters.

    I'll have my own solid ideas about how they'll look and it's often relevant to the story, so passing details of their appearance on to readers can actually add to the 'value' of the story.

    But I wouldn't just blatantly include an out of place description. It's always better to do it from the point of view of one of the characters, preferably someone who has, for the first time, encountered another character of a type whose appearance merits describing.

    Occasionally it can be sufficient for the p.o.v. character to generalise. For example, describing an antagonistic group as 'rat people' can give enough of a start for the reader to be going on with; later descriptions of their behaviour rather than their appearance can then 'fine tune' the reader's idea of what they're dealing with.

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  133. Dave - so true. The author better have a really detailed, really consistent picture in his/her head. Otherwise, those inconsistencies will drive the reader crazy.

    I only write a few (very few) details down about my characters, but I let them walk around in my head for a while before I start to write. That way I know them well.

    If the author is going to give me details that are important, I do want them early on before I make up my mind what that character looks like!

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  134. Dave - I don't know why, but your 2nd comment didn't show up right away.

    Any time you're dealing with science fiction or fantasy I think you probably need more description. World building is so important - we need that visual connection to something we've never seen.

    Off the top of my head I think Anne McCaffrey does this really well - Pern is very real to me. So is Tolkein's middle earth. They've given me enough details to make it real.

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  135. I wouldn't know, actually, because I often don't notice the physical descriptions of characters. I just realized the other day that one of the main characters of the book I am currently reading has blonde hair, while I have been imagining her dark-haired all along. I didn't mind the physical description, but it was completely wasted on me, because I continued to think of her as dark-haired...

    I guess to an extent I would expect a book to have some physical descriptions of the characters, but I doubt I would miss most of them (unless they have a point - like if the fact that the MC is terribly ugly, or very pretty is relevant to the plot).

    Good luck - I am intrigued by the concept of steampunk (so I would love to see your book on a shelf in a nearby store!)

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  136. Cruella - thanks! Me too! :)

    I'm pretty much the same. One of beta readers however noticed the lack of description just the other day, so I'll have to add a bit.

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  137. I like to know what the character looks like, but I like to know up front. I don't mean a full paragraph dedicated to the persons description, that's dull. But tell me on page one that they had blue-eyes and on page 2 that they had long black hair, etc...

    If you don't say within a page or two of the character being introduced it's too late. I have my own picture in my mind by then and any descriptions that don't match up will just bother me.

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  138. Teresa Dawn - I agree - any description coming better come early! That way I'm not fighting my image with the author's later in the book!

    Thanks for dropping by :)

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