I'm struggling with describing my character

Azzagorn

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Dec 14, 2011
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Guys and gals,

I am having an issue with my character description. Everytime I start to describe someone it feels clunky and awkward. Its frustrating because I feel like the stories flow is broken or at least seriously diverted. Any hints and tips would be very much welcome.

Regards
Az
 
Infodumps rarely work. Instead have them do a task, talk with someone, engage in their surroundings. Character is shown thru struggles.
 
Don't describe them then!

Really, it's not imperative that we know someone is dark-haired or blue-eyed unless the plot actually depends on it -- and that's not going to be the case for every character in the novel I'd hope! -- and it's certainly not necessary to give several lines of description on first meeting anyone, in fact that can read very badly.

If you want to give some idea of what a person looks like -- and I imagine readers do like something -- slip bits of description in as the action unfolds eg if the woman is staring at your main character "Steel grey eyes bored into his". eg if he sees someone at a distance "Her purple hair was the first thing he noticed, then the scar running across her cheek".

Don't go overboard, as most people won't remember any of it anyway, and make sure it comes from the character POV experience, not from you as author -- it's what the character notices, not what you want to tell.
 
I am having an issue with my character description. Everytime I start to describe someone it feels clunky and awkward. Its frustrating because I feel like the stories flow is broken or at least seriously diverted. Any hints and tips would be very much welcome.

I was advised to try and focus on the impression of a character, rather than just the physical details. IMO it's a better way to do it, but it doesn't mean to say it's any easier. :)
 
That makes sense. My last paragraph added nothing to the story and was clearly just filler. Thank you.
 
As @The Judge said, nobody can hold detailed descriptions of multiple characters. A few hints might be all that's required.

I was advised to try and focus on the impression of a character, rather than just the physical details. IMO it's a better way to do it, but it doesn't mean to say it's any easier. :)

Agree. The classic "V" of an Olympic swimmer, broad back and cauliflower shoulders. The gnarled face of a boxer and a nose that didn't know when to quit. Main characters tend to be larger than life.
 
I agree with all the above. Don't describe them physically beyond something basic to give an impression, it is more about what they are, not what they look like.

Which works better:

Mr X stormed into the bar and cast his cold, angry eyes about the room. He filled the doorway, his worn trenchcoat whipping around his legs as the storm blew dust into the taproom.

Or

Mr X stormed into the bar and cast his grey eyes around the room. He was a big man, easily six seven and two hundred and fifty pounds. He wore an old, scruffy brown trenchcoat that was covered in dust from the desert, the wind made it whip around his legs.

To me, the second is clunky and awkward, making you know what he looks like. The first, you just know, because your imagination builds him.

Describe minimaly and with emotion, trust your readers to fill the gaps and they will get a better picture.
 
Mr X stormed into the bar and cast his grey eyes around the room. He was a big man, easily six seven and two hundred and fifty pounds. He wore an old, scruffy brown trenchcoat that was covered in dust from the desert, the wind made it whip around his legs.

To me, the second is clunky and awkward, making you know what he looks like. The first, you just know, because your imagination builds him.

Describe minimaly and with emotion, trust your readers to fill the gaps and they will get a better picture.

This is how mine reads... I see the point being made, the first example is a lot better.
 
Actually, wouldn't readers prefer some description of major characters early on? Picturing a character one way and finding out they look different later in the book bothers me a little. For example, if in chapter 10, the main character "...brushed his purple hair out of his eyes," and all through the first nine chapters, I had pictured him with a blond crew cut. Also, would it bother readers if you never described the main character or hardly anyone else?
 
Actually, wouldn't readers prefer some description of major characters early on? Picturing a character one way and finding out they look different later in the book bothers me a little. For example, if in chapter 10, the main character "...brushed his purple hair out of his eyes," and all through the first nine chapters, I had pictured him with a blond crew cut. Also, would it bother readers if you never described the main character or hardly anyone else?

What part does his purple hair play in the story? Does he get teased for it? Or is everyone envious? If it has no influence, then leave it out.

You want your readers to use their imaginations, to be engaged in the story. The error is not mentioning a detail late; it's mentioning the detail at all.
 
If there's a particular detail you want to get across, you can have them stroke a moustache [especially stands out if it's someone else's], scratch stubble, etc.

In one of my series I never describe the second most important character beyond his gender, and, slightly surprisingly, nobody's ever raised that as an issue. [That was a deliberate choice so people could more easily put their own mental picture onto him, but it does show that it works perfectly well].
 

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