Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Character Descriptions

One area I'm weak in is describing my characters. There's three reasons for this. First, I don't pay attention much when authors describe their characters. I tend to make up my own image of them in my mind. Second, I tend to think it draws me out of the action to stop and look at a character, then return to whats going on. Third, I don't get a really good image of my character until until they've been forged through the hell I put them through.

Luckily with the word processor I can go back and put descriptions in after I've written the book. (Once again I wonder how authors could write full novels before computers). After the book is done I've got a clear picture of my characters. I know what's important about them so I can add that element to the description. And I can highlight what will be important about the descriptions.

So here are the descriptions of my major characters from MIND THIEF, in order of appearance:


Even with the campus nearly deserted, Hanson made sure to keep up his appearance before coming in. The comb over of his dyed black hair hid his bald spot. His thin beard was groomed to hide his saggy jowls. He wore a dark suit to hide his frame that was thirty pounds overweight.

Only for a few more months. After that I'll have my own private island to retire to. He reminded himself. I won't have to worry about appearances, I can pay people to flatter me.


'Don't stare. It's not polite' Howie thought as he entered the lobby to Dr. Randolph's office.

A college-aged girl with red velvet colored hair sat on one of the couches flipping the pages of a magazine. She was an absolute knockout. The low cut shirt she was wearing showed off her ample breasts nicely. Her jeans dipped in the front much lower than he had seen other girls wearing and hinted if she were to move just right he would be able to tell if the carpet matched the drapes. He tried to pull his eyes away, but she moved slightly. Maybe she flashed him, maybe it was a shadow.

She lowered her magazine to reveal gorgeous brown eyes. She made no attempt to hide the fact that she was sizing him up like she was starving and he was a prime cut of steak. Her eyes lingered on his crotch for several seconds, and then she went back to her magazine. From the grin on her face he knew she caught him staring.


He smiled. Girls complimented his smile and his light blue eyes. Luckily, he shaved that morning so she would be able to see his strong jawline. Being on break he had only brushed his short light brown hair after showering. He didn't think a visit to his family's shrink would need special grooming. Now he wished he had put in the extra effort.


The perky blonde stood with her sisters from Gamma house. Her tight white sweater and jeans looked like they could have been picked out from wardrobe on a movie set for “Sorority Girl #1”. Her makeup could have been copied from a magazine on her flawless skin. There was something about her composure, that even at a glance, made her more than just a cardboard cut-out of a sorority girl. She held her sculpted chin high enough to be confident, but not snobbish. Her shoulders were pulled back and chest out just enough to show she felt she belonged there, without saying, “Hey guys, look at these.”


It's still a weakness in my writing. But these brief descriptions should give readers a quick outline of what my characters look like. But still give them room to fill in the rest.

Let me know what you think. Do you get a good image of the characters, or is it something you would skip over?

By Darrell B. Nelson author of I KILLED THE MAN THAT WASN'T THERE


Stephanie Barr said...

I get criticized all the time for not giving snapshots of my characters for the reader, but I like to get to know them for who they are rather than appearance. If I do describe them, it's for contrast with others or as someone else is studying someone. Even then, I prefer to focus on what isn't seen as much as what is.

It's a real skill to do this unobtrusively.

Darrell B. Nelson said...

I don't know if we are different than most readers or if it is trend, (The pulp novels in the golden age rarely gave character descriptions) but novels now seem to need them. Most of the time I find them annoying. Someone is doing something, stop, this is what he looks like, okay lets continue.
I'm working to get it to blend smoothly but its not easy.