Character descriptions are stupid

Okay, they’re not; not all the time, and not when the way a character looks adds something to the story. But, generally, it does not.

Any author who feels the need to describe the colour of the protagonists’s eyes, or the length of their hair, or the make of their suit in the first couple of paragraphs is sending out the clear message that they have nothing more interesting to say in those first paragraphs.

We’ve all read it, and you may even be one of those authors who does it. This kind of thing…

Misty Blade the teenage vampire hunter crouched at the edge of the steeply sloping roof. She pushed her long, deliberately unkempt style raven black hair over one shoulder and looked down at the dark street below through her matching pair of emerald eyes under arched eyebrows that were the same ebony shade as the aforementioned hair on her head.

Truly awful, I know. But come on, we all know someone who thinks that would be a great opening paragraph for their next novel.

Before describing a character, you need to ask yourself a few questions, of which these are just a sample:

1 – If you do NOT mention the character’s eye colour, will it affect the story at all?
2 – Can the character’s hair length be mentioned as part of an action sequence rather than just for the sake of it?
3 – Will the reader have a better time imagining how the character looks based on the character’s actions and behaviour, rather than being given an A-B-C description of eye colour, hair length, etc.?

If you absolutely have to mention a character’s physical features and clothes, try to avoid dumping them into the opening paragraphs like some kind of shopping list. And ditch the green eyes. They have been seriously overused.

Don’t use a mirror when you’re writing first person. You know what I mean, and if you don’t, well here’s another example.

I’m Byron Alpha, the extensively tattooed billionaire Mafia don. I paused as I strode past the mirror. I nodded with satisfaction at my mane of thick, glossy black hair (that every woman I met loved to run her hands through), hooded green eyes, aquiline nose, roguish two-day stubble, perfect cheekbones, and washboard abs that I knew were there but couldn’t see at the time because they were hidden beneath my very expensive Ermenegildo Zegna suit.

I am not completely opposed to describing a character’s appearance. I have done it myself, as anyone who has read any of my books will know. The point that I am making is that you do not need to shove details of eye colour, hair length and designer labels into the opening paragraphs of your book.

This is the first of a series of posts on specific writing issues where I feel that I need to add my own opinion to the millions that already exist. I have already posted a version of this on Wattpad, and I may post it elsewhere if I feel that it would be appropriate to do so. Or maybe just because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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