Describing a Character

Describing a Character

One of the questions I see on social media is about character description. This is also a favorite question when I do face to face presentations. I’m not sure that there is a one-size-fits-all answer but here are the two basic ways I use.

Character information can be delivered in a number of ways. This first example is what I call the big gulp/swallow – height, build, hair and eye color in one paragraph or so.

Example: She stared at the dress in the mirror. The salmon color did absolutely nothing for her red hair or her green eyes. In fact, her skin looked sallow. The lighting overhead didn’t help disguise the fact that her hips looked a lot bigger than they were and, at just over five feet, she so didn’t like that image.

Another way to deliver the information is in dialogue. For the purposes here, I will make it quick but the information could be spread out over a couple of pages depending on the scene.

Example: Kelly stepped out of the dressing room and into the brighter light of the triple mirror platform.  She could see the horror in her friend Lisa’s eyes. “It’s not me, is it? I loved the style on the hanger but it fits me in the all the wrong places.”

“You are so slender and that thing makes you look very full,” she said as she waved her hands in a wide arc.

Kelly laughed, seeing humor in the choice. At least she’d had sense enough to try the thing on before buying it. “Worse it makes my hair look like I dipped my head in red ink.”

Lisa slapped her hand over her mouth to muffle the giggle that wanted to pop. “I don’t think I have ever seen you look quite like this in the fifteen years that we have been friends.”

Kelly headed for the dressing room. “Believe me, this is the first and the last time.”

In this example, not only did the reader get a good idea of what Kelly looked like but also that she had a friend of long standing and someone who would be honest with her, someone she trusted, someone with whom she could laugh.

This character is more than just a physical description. Emotional make-up, back story, present choices and future needs are some of the basic layers of  every character. The more the reader understands the character, the deeper the reader becomes involved with the character’s needs, wants and actions. Engagement with the story, the plot and the people within the world you create keeps the reader turning pages, searching for the answer to what happens next.




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