Write A Perfect Character Description
Especially in fictional writing, it is important to draw your readers in and to give them a great impression of the wonderful world and situations you made up. One of the most difficult things to do when engaging in creative writing is to create a description of your character. Showing off the appearance of the protagonist or another character can quickly sound tacky or overused. It’s even harder to do so when you write in first person POV. But no worries! We’ve got some tips for you for writing a great Character description that will let your readers “see” your characters.
What’s the most obvious thing to do when you write a character description from the first person POV? Exactly, let your protagonist use a mirror. This is some rather bad advice though. Lets find out why.
That a mirror is the first thing that comes to mind should already be an indication that this stylistic device is probably overused already. Besides, it isn’t subtle at all. While a mirror scene gives you the perfect opportunity to add some kind of snapshot of your protagonist into the story, it most certainly interrupts the flow of your story telling as well.
Furthermore, using the mirror reminds our reader that he or she is, figuratively, seeing something – and that this is exactly what we intended. This hinders the reader to get a more unbiased vie on the character since he or she could feel practically forced to view your protagonist in a certain light. To create a deeper-rooted connection between your main character (and the other cast of your story), a more subtle way of describing his or her appearance, style, and other characteristics is in order.
Another great way to establish your characters looks without being invasive or too “in your face” for your readers is by throwing your character into an encounter. That way, you can either contrast your character with another, or use complementary features and traits you protagonist may share with another character of the story.
While this is a better and less forced way to describe your character, a character description using this method may still seem a bit forced. When you encounter your rival or crush, it’s normal to fill in some self-reflection. How does my hair look? Is there a stain on my shirt? Did I overdress?
However, overthinking can still seem disruptive in these occasions. While your protagonist may fear that her hair is a mess, she will most likely not think about the color and length – something way too familiar and everyday for her. At the same time, your protagonist may fear that he is not dressed up enough for a date, however would he really describe the color of his pants and pattern of his tie? That’s not too likely, is it?
Contrary to the mirror scene, encounters with other characters that result in some reflection of your character can be a great way to give the reader some subtle information about the protagonist of your story. However, it’s a stylistic device that should be used with great care.
Special vs. Everyday
One advice we can give you is to stay out of the way when it comes to your character’s description. A snapshot like using a mirror scene or another, detailed description of your protagonist interrupts the flow of your readers. And, hands down, is it really necessary to point out every little detail about your character?
It is in our human nature to recognize things that attract or repel us when looking at someone else. However, how many things do we recognize about ourselves if they are not standing out, and how frequent? Describing everyday clothing choices or the typical appearance of a first person POV protagonist doesn’t make much sense.
Thus, it’s the authors job to decide when the protagonist is in a more special situation that may require a certain hairdo or fancy clothes – or the opposite, maybe your character needs to be casual out of the ordinary. If such a situation occurs, the character may have certain thoughts about his or her appearance, or certain requirements. By pointing out these differences from the usual, you also give your readers a subtle and not straight-forward impression about what your character normally looks and dresses like.
Be Your Character
Whichever way you choose though, keep one thing in mind: you as an author shouldn’t be visible to your readers. If you speak, think, act, then do so as your protagonist. You as an author should become completely invisible in the story itself and leave it to the protagonist to explain things. That way, your readers will get involved in the story better, being able to understand the characters’ motives and experiences, leaving the flow of your story telling undisturbed.
To do so, do not rely on pure descriptions. Direct speech can serve as a matter of description as well. Instead of creating a snapshot of the situation, describing it, and continuing with the action afterwards, you do not have to break with the flow. Intertwine the descriptions with the words said and thoughts uttered, as well as the actions taking place.
To make it more clear, let us look at two ways to describe the very same encounter.
I was nervous, a strand of pitch black hair sticking to my forehead. Irritated, I tried to brush it away. Mika looked stunning in her light blue summer dress and the delicate silver jewelry. I, on the contrary, wearing my dark suit and a tie in discrete purple, felt completely overdressed for the occasion. She didn’t seem to notice though, offering me one of her stunning smiles that brought even more color to my cheeks.
This example is not bad, but also not perfect either. The descriptions seem a bit forced and unnatural, especially from our male protagonist’s point of view. Let’s consider this more subtle approach.
I was nervous, and it must have been obvious from the fine sweat that sat on my forehead. Irritated, I tried to brush away one of the pitch-black strands of hair that stuck to it. Mika looked stunning, the light blue summer dress underlining her soft and cheerful nature just as much as the delicate silver jewelry. I felt completely overdressed. Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen the dark suit with that tacky purple tie. But now, it was too late for such thoughts.
“You look great”, she spoke softly, giving me one of these stunning smiles that brought even more color to my heated cheeks.
In this example, the descriptions of the characters appearance aren’t as mashed together as in the first, portrayed by the protagonist’s thoughts and accompanied with some direct speech that loosened up the beforehand quite stiff scene.