POV Character Description - How Much?

tinkerdan

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I’m not sure I follow... can you expand the concern? Characters probably have a skin color, and it may or may not be relevant. I’m not sure what is going to get ridiculous ...?
withholding skin color, until the end--if that changes your perspective of the whole story, how could that be bad except that it tells you something about yourself that maybe you didn't want to know.

The point is that the only problem should arise if one description offered by the author is actually the opposite of another actual description offered by the author.

I don't buy this stuff where some people say they would rather fill in the description themselves, because what it really is is that those people just tend to do that when they are denied a complete description at the beginning and then set themselves up for a disappointment when their preconceived idea is nowhere near what the person looks like.

If the author hasn't given you an eye color or hair color, why would you presume to give the character those? I generally assume that the correct opportunity for description has no yet arrived and could show up any time now.

Without those then the character might show up as flat-2d and if you keep filling them in, then you might fool yourself into believing the author created a well rounded character and the joke is on you because you just did that in your head.
 

Valtharius

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Echoing what others have said: I pretty much only write physical descriptions when specifically relevant. Though I might try it more in the future. I can see how some people like the immersion effect, others find it distracting. It's a personal preference. Perhaps it depends on what kind of story you want to write.
 

zmunkz

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withholding skin color, until the end--if that changes your perspective of the whole story, how could that be bad except that it tells you something about yourself that maybe you didn't want to know.
I’m not sure why you’re insinuating along that line, but in any case, you are reading further into my concern than you need to. I’m not talking about the skin color (or any visual attribute) changing what a story means or how I interpret it. I’m talking about the fact that people look different, and if I get to know one person and go on a journey with them, it’s disruptive when that person changes in a manner that real people don’t change. When that happens, it moves the reading process from an empathetic one to an intellectual one, however briefly, which results in some signal loss.
if the author hasn't given you an eye color or hair color, why would you presume to give the character those?
It sounds like you are not a visual reader. That’s not uncommon, although I was surprised to learn it was a thing. For me, everything I read is immediately visual. Images just form, I have no say in the matter, it is how my thoughts manifest. If you don’t give me details, they will appear in my head, not as the result of some presumptuous decision, but because that’s how people appear in my head... as complete people. I can update that image as I proceed through the text, but the longer I go without feedback, the more disruptive it is if it suddenly does change.
 

Andy Hauser

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How much physical description do you usually include in your stories?

I find that I usually do not provide more than a name and gender via pronouns for my main characters. Is that sufficient? I've scanned the introductory chapters in several books by different authors that I enjoy reading and have found only one described the physical characteristics of the main character any where within the first couple of pages. Is light or nonexistent description considered normal?

What is your preference as a reader? Do you care what the characters look like?
I do the same (in third-limited). I love when a character's look is unveiled slowly throughout his or her entire arc. But I find it very helpful to have at least one or two unique things about that character very early on, e.g. "his red and black hair," "her dark skin," or "his claw-like nose." Then you have something tangible to out with the name.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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Related question: if the story is told in first person, should other characters be described to the degree that the POV character would be paying attention to what they looked like? I can imagine some narrators would notice very little about what people look like, while other would be obsessing over every tiny detail. (My sister: "How could you not notice that hideous pattern on his tie?!" Me: "He was wearing a tie?") And what about in "close" third person, where the narrator sticks closely to the protagonsits viewpoint?
 

Steve Harrison

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Related question: if the story is told in first person, should other characters be described to the degree that the POV character would be paying attention to what they looked like? I can imagine some narrators would notice very little about what people look like, while other would be obsessing over every tiny detail. (My sister: "How could you not notice that hideous pattern on his tie?!" Me: "He was wearing a tie?") And what about in "close" third person, where the narrator sticks closely to the protagonsits viewpoint?
That's a great question.

I assess description from all POVs the same way and try to work out how much detail the reader needs. This usually means that my POV characters, whether in first or close third, are far more observant than I am in real life, and possibly more observant than the actual character.

For example, the character might describe a person in fine detail when they meet, but in the next chapter they can't recall a single thing about them. But the reader can.

I think that's particularly important in first, when the entire story is channeled through one person, but not as much when writing using multiple POVs (my preferred method), when you can build a descriptive picture through the observations of several characters.
 

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