We want to establish how our characters (especially our MC) look from the beginning. It feels important to us because we have a clear view of them that we want to give our readers. Unfortunately, most people stumble into a bad habit early on in their writing of making a list and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The laundry list.
Maryanne stopped to check her reflection as she headed out the door. Glossy chestnut hair, dark almond shaped eyes with a fringe of black lashes, plump rose bud lips, on top of a lean frame with no hips. Shrugging at the image, she grabbed her keys and ran out the door.
Oh please do not.
This does several things that damages your story.
- It cuts away from whatever action you start with.
- it is disrupts the voice.
- It is unrealistic.
When was the last time you looked in the mirror and thought, okay, i still have my eyes, hair, nose, rose-bud lips on top of a lean frame? So why would your character do it?
So how do you get your character’s physical appearance across to your reader?
Ditch the list. Put the details in the action.
Sarina brushed back the blond strand that kept falling into her eyes.
Mark’s blue eyes regarded her with concern.
Jasmine applied the brightest shade of red she could find to her lips, making them appear even fuller than they already were.
This method, spaced out through out the first stages or chapter of the story will suggest the details of the characters appearance to the reader while they are still developing their image of them in their head. And they won’t feel like they received an inventory sheet for features.
Call it like another character sees it
“Ben always has the coolest hair,” Samantha said as Ben walked by. “It’s black and thick and he always leaves it a little long.”
Now we know a good deal about Ben’s hair. Girls like it and he wears it well.
The irregular detail
I saw this excellent suggestion on Pinterest. Point out one irregular detail of your character, a scar, a patch of gray in their beard, a faint birthmark by their left eye, and the image of the character starts to come into focus much more sharply than: She had blue eyes and blond hair and a nice rack.
Let your readers fill in the blanks
Once I put my laundry list descriptions behind me, I found that it wasn’t always important to me to spell out how a character looked. If ethnicity is important, than tell us their heritage, but on the same end, if it’s not, why bother?
Is it important to the story that your character has blue eyes? Does it drive the story forward if we know that he has a chiseled jaw? If the answer is yes, than by all means, get that info in there, but if you find that their appearance doesn’t matter so much, consider letting your reader one to them based on their character and their personality.
And however you decide to go, best of luck!