Also, it’s always a good idea to enroll in some kind of figure drawing class, if you can.
onlylive1ce asked: You say “Describing characters by having them examine themselves in the mirror” is one of the worst cliches that writes can do. So, can you tell me another way of doing that in a first person perspective that don’t sound retarded, and is not a cliche like that?
We sure can, but first we’d like to establish that using a mirror to have a character describe himself or herself is not bad, it’s just cliched. A lot of writers do it because it’s easy, hence cliche. Anyone who tells you that something you’ve written or the way that you write is bad doesn’t understand what literary criticism is. Really quickly:
Literary Criticism: The art or practice of judging and commenting on the qualities and character of literary works.
It is “criticism” not because it is negative or corrective, but rather because those who write criticism ask hard, analytical, crucial, or “critical” questions about the works they read. (x)
Any ten-year-old can read something and say, “I hate this! This is so bad!” The key point is to explain why you, the critic, dislike a work or passage of a work or character or plot point, etc. A critic must be able to back up “BAD BAD BAD” with some kind of useful explanation or the criticism is essentially worthless.
A few ways to describe a first-person narrator:
- Just tell us. Seriously, it’s not going to kill anyone if you just briefly come out and say what a character looks like. The part about briefly is important here. You don’t want to spend paragraphs at a time describing a character. Just hit the high points, the physical traits you feel the reader really needs to know, and move on. Three sentences or less. Less is better. Examples:
- I’m tall and broad and black-eyed.
- I’d become a lined and stooped version of my younger self: pale and white-haired, thin and pallid.
- I’m very young for my age. Or, I guess I should say that I look about twelve when I am, in fact, twenty. I still get carded for rated-R movies.
- I think my most striking feature is my grey eyes. Everything else about me is perfectly ordinary.
- I’ve got an olive complexion and a bit of a superiority complex. My mom says my shiny black hair belongs in shampoo commercials. I couldn’t agree more.
- Describe them in relation to other characters. Since your character can see other people, you can use those people to describe your narrator. This is probably the most common method aside from just coming out and telling the reader what the narrator looks like. Examples:
- I’ve always been shorter than my brother, who isn’t exactly a giant.
- My best friend’s hair is lighter and curlier than my own, which is lank and brown by comparison.
- I got my mom’s thin eyebrows and my dad’s strong jaw.
- People say that my boyfriend and I look like we could be siblings. Same black hair. Same green eyes. Same full lips. I disagree on the grounds of ew.
- I think Mr. Gardner might be related to me. He has the pointed family chin.
- Sprinkle in description over time on an as-needed basis. Basically, no reader needs a laundry list of descriptive words about the character’s appearance right off the bat. You can touch on the nuances of the character’s physical appearance throughout the story, spreading the hints out and making them count as part of the actual narrative. They don’t have to stand alone; these descriptions can blend right in with the rest of your narrative. Examples:
- I stare down at my shaking fingers as Jim yells, examining the nails bitten down to stubs.
- My stupid mane of dirty blonde hair was getting in the way again.
- The raindrops slid down the tanned skin of my arms.
- I brushed sand off of my pale legs, thinking that the beach was definitely my least favorite geographical location.
- He kissed the freckles of my cheeks.
- Get another character to do it for the narrator. This is almost always done with dialogue, but you can help it along if you need to (see fourth example). Using what another character sees to describe the narrator is perfectly viable. Examples:
- “When you cry, your eyes are even bluer,” he said.
- My mom blanched. “Honey, you’re hair… It’s pink!”
- “You look kind of like Tom Hiddleston from this angle.”
- “I like your skin. I like the contrast,” he said, holding his pale arm against mine. We were opposite ends of the color spectrum.
- “God, you’re hairy,” she said.
- Let the reader draw their own conclusions. Writers just love to do the reader’s job for them, but we’re here to tell you that’s not always necessary. Letting the readers make some decisions about a character’s appearance for themselves is perfectly acceptable. You can use weird analogies, inference, pop culture references, and stereotypes to describe a character without actually describing them. Examples:
- Compared to Lisbeth, I’m about at pretty as a folding chair.
- I smack my forehead on the door frame as I enter the house.
- “You’re like a Weasley without the magic,” she said.
- Great. If this is a horror movie, I’m the token minority.
- I’m not Jewish, but I’m all the stereotypes that seem to come with being Jewish.
The idea is to slip in character description at the appropriate times. You get to decide when those times are and what to describe. Heck, you even get to make the call about whether or not to use a mirror, but we think there are three things that bother people about the mirror cliche:
- It’s unnecessary. A character can describe himself or herself without a mirror. This is a story, and both the reader and the writer know it. Describing things in the narrative is expected, and a character doesn’t need a mirror to hit the highlights of their physical appearance for the reader.
- Most people don’t look at themselves that critically in a mirror. When I look in a mirror while I brush my teeth, for example, I’m not scrutinizing my physical features. I’m just staring in the mirror for something to stare at. I don’t notice the golden flecks in my eyes or the pout of my lips. I don’t congratulate myself on my thick locks of auburn hair or my high cheekbones. If anything, I ignore everything except maybe the abstract: I need to put on make-up. I’m having a bad hair day. I’m getting wrinkles. I think I’m gaining weight. I don’t notice anything that is stereotypically useful to know about my appearance; I don’t see the identifying characteristics about myself because I see those every day, as does your character.
- It’s pretty common. Lots of writers use this method, so like many cliches, they’re not so much irksome individually as they are repetitive for readers when compared with the others books they have read. Boring. Seen it. As with other cliches, they’ve read the mirror scene so many times that, even though it may only appear once in your story, readers often already feel like they’ve read it a thousand times. Readers bring their entire history with them when they read something new. New for you is not necessarily new for them.
Just be mindful of your audience and get creative in your descriptions. That’s really the best advice for first-person character descriptions we can give.
Thank you for your question!
I got several requests to cover items in the ‘stereotype’ field, specifically that among orientation, race, and lifestyles. Like the last one I’ll try to keep this brief, but when you’re designing a character of a different race, lifestyle or orientation than yourself you shouldn’t abuse the stereotypes. Just because your male character is gay, you don’t also have to have him ridiculously into fashion. Because your character is Asian you don’t have to indulge in a character who is also a nerd.
Not only do many people consider these ‘stereotypes’ racist, when your character is chock full of nothing but stereotypes, what do you have? A flat, predictable, boring character. A lesbian doesn’t necessarily have to have a ‘male’ haircut, or be overall butch in any fashion. It’s also perfectly fine if she does. But you do not need to give your lesbian / asian / drag queen / etc., character every single stereotype.
Drag queens aren’t flamboyant every single second of their lives. Or you know what? They don’t have to be flamboyant at all. The stereotypes are there, but that isn’t a big notice to you to use EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Research the lifestyle you are representing, find people who do live that lifestyle, and talk to them. Watch some documentaries, read books, do the work. Yes, writing is work. If you’re looking to create a realistic character that people can actually relate to, you need to look at real people.
You don’t need to describe your character down to the finest detail; let your reader do some imagining of their own (they seem to enjoy that!) But there are a few character points that affect how they interact with their world which you can reveal through action.
- Height: Do they need to duck through doorways, or bend to speak to their friends? Do they struggle to reach the top shelf in the supermarket? The way they cope with these things reveal how they feel about their height. Do they compensate by wearing heels or by slouching?
- Weight: Do they easily slip through small spaces and crowds? Or do they avoid sitting on flimsy-looking furniture? Do they suffer backache from pulling their stomach in all day, or do they wear layers to try and look bulkier?
- Eyesight: How well can they see distances or read small print? Do they proudly wear glasses, do they go more subtle with contact lenses, or are they in complete denial?
- Smell: Do they douse themselves in perfume or do people shy away from their sweaty smell? Do they realise what they smell like, or are they oblivious?
- Walk: Does the way they walk make them stand out, or blend in with the crowd? Do they look ahead or walk looking at their feet? How big is their stride, how big are their feet, and how does this affect the way they move around their world?
These are all things that can be used to reveal character, impact plot and affect the setting.
Think about how happy your character is with their physical attributes. Do they hide them because they’ve suffered years of bullying, or are they proud of who they are and have little care for what others think?
Ok, basically I wanted to talk about this brand new site my friend Keith and I have been working on, and that I think a lot of people here might enjoy/benefit from.
It’s called Charahub - and it’s basically a place to store all of your characters from ALL OF EVERYWHERE! Every petsite, every doodle, every MLP fan character, any thing you’ve ever sat there and created you can put on this site. We’re not having any of that ‘once you upload it belongs to us’ rules, we want this to be a great and safe tool for everyone!
Go sign up and have a look around! We’re still working on it, but I can describe what we’ve already done:
- Add characters: You can add up to 100 characters right now. In the future we might increase or decrease this limit, or make it so a paid account will allow you unlimited character spots. You can fill in whatever fields you want, the ones you don’t fill in will end up not showing up on the profile.
-Images: You can add the art of your character here, and arrange them in the order you’d like on the page. The top 3 will be shown on their profile, and you can change the focus of what is seen in the thumbnail. You’ll also be able to attach a little blurb describing the picture at some point, or listing the art credits. (This is still being worked on!)
-Questions: this is pretty fun - any user can upload their own questions and then they’re available for anyone to see and answer for each of their characters. It was designed as a character building tool, something to give you a new bit of inspiration in an area you might not have previously thought of! The questions you do answer will be visible on your character’s profile.
-Connections: Your character may have connections with another character of yours or a friends - they might be family, friends, enemies, employers - anything you like. You just create a hub page for the character you want to connect to, and send a request to connect them. If you own both the characters, then it’s an easy process!
HERE is an example of how I’ve used Charahub with one of my characters.
I see it as being very useful for getting art commissions - you just link to your character’s hub page and the artist can see all the info they need! Or people that write stories can keep all of their characters information here (which can be set to private, public or unlisted in case they’re worried about people seeing it before it’s ready). Or it can just be a good development tool. Or maybe, like me, you just want a place to store a bunch of info that you never really intended putting on display on various pet sites but want to keep written down!
So yes, I’ve noticed a lot of interesting characters and such being shown here on Tumblr, and I think a lot of you guys over here might enjoy this and be able to use it well. We’ll have forums over there eventually, but until then if you have any suggestions for improving the site, you can let me know!
PLEASE SIGN UP and enjoy! (Ohh, if you get asked for a key, it’s ‘peacock’ and don’t mind all the kittens - we’re working on the artwork :) )
I love storytelling like that. That’s one of my favorite things about Gryffindor/Slytherin because, to be honest, we’re motivated by the same things… we just have different approaches.
Gryffindors would probably have semi-active protests for equality while there’d probably be the explosion of a vacant government building in the name of Slytherin.
Severus Snape is the surprise winner of a poll to find the public’s favourite Harry Potter character. With 13,000 votes, the character, who is played by Alan Rickman in the film versions, took 20% of the 70,000 votes cast in the survey from the books’ publisher, Bloomsbury. He was the clear winner, beating loyal swot Hermione Granger into second place.
HA at Voldemort’s placing. Higher than some of the Marauders.
Are they saving her for later, or is she just dust in the Hunger Games wind?
Please, please, pretty please.
I know everyone wants to know about Katniss and Peeta and Gale and who might play Finnick or whatever. But, all my little heart wants from Gary is to know something about about Madge.
…She is sort of important in Catching Fire. So, how would Katniss learn about…what’s happening, if she has no reason to be inside the Mayor’s house?
Hm. We DO need Madge.