Welcome to part 2 of my new writing series: How to Make Memorable Characters. Today’s post is titled: How Much Should You Describe Your Character? If you missed Part 1: Introduction, then check it out here.
So, you’re working on your book and you look back at the opening scene where you first introduce your main character (MC). You stop and think, did I describe my character enough? Too much? How do I know when I need more or less description? Those questions are answered here!
Honestly, you don’t need to describe your characters as much as aspiring writers think.
Wait WHAT!!!! You mean all this time…???
*yeah, I didn’t know how to end that sentence, so I left it free for you to end however you wish*
Anyway, when you describe your character, you should ask yourself these things:
Is this description necessary for the reader?
Will a lack of the description alter the plot?
If I withheld this information will it make the character flat?
I should point out when I’m talking about describing characters, I’m talking about outward appearances. Most of the time physical description is unnecessary and has lack of purpose. But not all the time. For instance, in The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (you guys know I can’t go a post without bringing it up), the physical description was actually very necessary. Sage (the MC) had a lot of physical similarities to the other boys because of the way the plot was going. Physical looks actually played a big role in the story. So, if you’re writing a story where the outward appearances are important, then you MUST definitely share what the MC looks like.
But if it’s not…then what?
Glad you asked, my friend!! This is where you don’t have to worry about if you say the color of you MC’s hair or eyes or how tall he/she is. It’s not necessary to the story, therefore, if you failed to stick it in to your story, it won’t affect it. AT ALL.
But what if you really want to describe your character? That’s really good, because even though description of your character isn’t necessary, that doesn’t mean readers don’t like to see it. Actually, we enjoy knowing what the MC looks like. For instance, one time I was reading a book and the girl on the cover looked like she had brown hair, so this whole time I was picturing the girl with brown hair. Until it comes out about halfway into the book she had BLOND HAIR!!! Like I said, it didn’t affect the story, but it would’ve been nice to know it before we did.
Description should be used in your story, but it doesn’t have to be a whole lot. You don’t have to explain in great detail what your character looks like. I was reading a story once, and every single character in the story had like a lengthy paragraph of description. Eventually, I couldn’t keep straight who was short and who was tall. Who had blond, brown, and red hair. It all lumped together. And it made the story boring when I saw the next few paragraphs were nothing but description!
So, how do you describe your character? First, let me say, you don’t have to describe your character in the first chapter. If you don’t have a point in your opening chapter to do it, that’s OKAY. And don’t describe your character by making them stare at their reflection and describing themselves. Readers will view this as lazy. One way to describe your character is by having them compare themselves to another character. Like the boy stood an inch shorter than me. This leads the reader to think you’re character is tall. Mostly, what I do, is if my MC says their eyes saw this, I might throw in blue (or whatever color it is). Like: My blue eyes scanned the horizon. There, you get to describe something about your character without throwing in a lengthy paragraph.
(If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.)
Remember in description, if it’s not necessary to the plot and you can’t find a good spot to stick something in, then forget it. Your reader isn’t going to pay attention if the color of eyes is not said.
To wrap this up, basically what you should take away is that an overuse of description is not necessary, but certain things can be helpful or wanted. When you describe try to incorporate it into the flow of the story. And don’t set aside a section to do nothing but describe what your character looks like. Your description doesn’t have to happen in the first chapter, but can be sprinkled throughout the story.
Want more writing tips? I want to add in here real quickly about a new book coming out Dec. 3rd. Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel. I’m super excited for this book. I know it will be an amazing read for any aspiring writers (or truly anyone who wants to know more about writing). I found out about Go Teen Writers’ website in August this year, and already I have learned soooooo much about writing. (In like three months!) I can only imagine all the awesome information their new book will hold. If you want to learn more or preorder your copy of Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel do so here.
So, in the comments you can share anything you like about your main character. (And if you liked this post, please let me know in the comments. I want to bring blog posts that are filled with things YOU want to read.) The main character in my WIP, Into the Lamp, is a sixteen-year-old boy named Colin.
If you want to know more about my WIP, check out the previous post. There I talk all about it in a writer’s linkup I joined. And if you want to read a portion of the opening chapter of Into the Lamp, head over to Teen Writers’ Nook’s new page, Critique Corner.
Another note: this upcoming week, TWN doesn’t have any planned posts. I’m probably not going to do a post, but Lacey or Alana might. Just thought I’d let you know, nothing’s planned. The week afterwards, though, I will meet you back for part three of my writing series: The Importance of Giving Quirks to Your Characters! I hope to see you there! And on the thirty-first of this month (yes, I’m well aware what day that is) I plan to do a post on encouragement for writers. (Because in this business, you can never get enough encouragement.)
I’ll see you back on another post, for now, as always, Keep Writing!