Character physical descriptions. How much information do you give? Or rather, how much information do you need to give? Once again, there are no set-in-stone rules on how you handle this.

From reading romance novels, I’ve gathered the author is expected to give a thorough description of how the characters look. On the other hand, we have books like the Harry Potter series. All we know about Harry is he has untidy black hair, light eyes and glasses; Ron- red hair and freckles; Hermione- bushy hair and big teeth.

Does one work better than the other? How you handle character descriptions seems to have more to do with your genre. In my opinion, less is better. You should give the readers enough information to kick start their imaginations.

Sometimes, all you need it a one sentence description. For Dark Fantasy books, though, it’s kinda tricky. More often than not, the POV character is some otherworldly being. Whenever I tell people my characters aren’t human, the first thing they ask is- what do they look like?

In the past, I got feedback that the reader couldn’t picture my characters. I used to give bits and pieces of physical traits along the way like “she threw her long hair out her face,” or “she pulled back her shoulders to try and look taller than she was.”

If the reader doesn’t have a firm grasp on what your character looks like yet you keep reinforcing they aren’t human then…the story loses something. Now, I give two or three sentences of physical characteristics when they first appear then throw in more details as the story develops.

To make things even more fun, genre is not the only thing to consider. If your story is in first person or close third, the description of another character will be marred by the protagonists own biases.

How do you present your character’s physical appearance?


Unknown · October 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

If I'm reading a romance, I want to know what the guy looks like, but not in detail. I want to know he's taller than me, physically fit, steel gray eyes and a full head of dark brown hair. But that's about all.

I don't want to know that he has a one inch scar above his right eye or a diamond stud in his left ear. I also do not care to know about what sort of watch he's wearing or how his chest hairs peek out over the neckline of his shirt.

All those details detract from the ambiance and chemistry known for romance. Just let the imagination take you away!

Kelly Hashway · October 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I like to give some without totally taking over the reader's imagination. I think the reader should be able to envision a character the way they want to a certain extent. So I guess I only tell what's necessary, if that makes sense.

Molly Jo · October 15, 2012 at 5:22 am

I'm in a writing class, and I've learned that we only give the reader what they NEED. Does it matter if they picture the protagonist as a blonde when he's really a brunette? Not if it's insignificant to the storyline. This has been a very hard lesson for me to grasp, as I'm highly detail-oriented. I like this post, gives me something to think about.

Unknown · October 15, 2012 at 5:23 am

P.S. I came over from Writer's Digest Community.

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