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Character Descriptions - A Poll

Zach Caldwell

Character descriptions in a story.  

23 members have voted

  1. 1. As a reader; do you prefer characters to be fully described (hair color, eye color, height , weight etc) early in the story?

    • Yes. It helps me to better visualize the characters from the start.
    • No. I like to imagine the character in my mind as I progress through the story
    • Both Yes and No - I prefer some details but like some details to be learned later on or throughout the story.
    • It does not matter to me how the author presents the character descriptions so long as the story is engaging and gripping.

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Wow... no yes votes... but understandable. I do prefer some of the details up front, and then further character development as the storyline proceeds... that way I get an initial impression of what they look like, whether or not I'm interested in meeting them (*and some authors do make them desirable!!), and if they don't meet the criteria, then maybe, just maybe as they develop, I'll change my mind and give them  more credence. 


Just my 2 cents

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I started as a reader, so I feel I have a right to a say!


I enjoy discovering a character.  A few details to pin them down, but not a "laundry list".  Rather what the author would be struck with himself when noticing a new person upon first glance, then, as they continue to meet, the little things he sees about the other person.  How sunlight catches the hair or eyes, shifting colors in the skin tones, the texture in the skin at different points of the body, freckles, clothes choices, speech patterns (shifting depending upon whom one is speaking with), the list goes on...


Ultimately, it is the author's choice and style. I am just happy to let my imagination go to town.  


When I know they have succeeded, is when I am frustrated by my limited artistic skill to depict what I imagine by drawing, paint or whatever medium I try to express what I am 'seeing' in my head!

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I need enough information about a character so that I can get in my mind a good general idea of what this character looks like.  While I have a vivid imagination, I have to have something to get me started.  I also need to have a view into the character's personality - then this personality needs to be strengthened as the story goes along.


For years, I worked as a technical writer - bland, boring, put you to sleep documents.  I had a very difficult time, in the beginning, of giving my characters - personality.  I still have to watch myself so that I do not write information that is best placed in bullet points.


Having received numerous counsels by other writers and reader comments I've learned & continue to learn that the very first paragraph will generally win or lose a reader.  A good comparative example is house or apartment hunting - the very first wall a prospective buyer or renter will see is what is called an 'impact wall'.  This 'impact wall' sells the home or apartment.  If it is shitty, then it's shitty - no amount of fancy fangled stuff throughout the rest of the house will sell the prospect.  Such is the case with story writing.


Also, I've had my heart broken by negative commentary.  You know what, though?  I've learned and continue to learn the most valuable lessons by listening to those detractors & constructive criticisms!  Whether or not I take them personally, is up to me.  I've had to stop thinking of and taking them as personal 'attacks' upon my person.  This is so true in real life as well.


Heh - by trade I am a computer software engineer which is a highly technical occupation.  Since I've made the transformation to story telling, I can just see myself giving life, depth & personality to a computer instruction!  What a trip!

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I believe in the power of human imagination! its a mystical power and extremely powerful and dangerous. LOL. I don't like character descriptions other than the occasional reference to a physical attribute that  is important to the story plot. It goes along with too much detail in a story.If a scene is over described then I am bored, it does nothing to spark my imagination. Same with a character if I don't have a description my mind will create an imagine and that is who the character becomes to me. The overused and dull scene of a character looking in a mirror and describing him/herself to the reader will turn me off faster than picturing my grandmother in her knickers. (OK thats not true but you get the point). If your going to use descriptions then at least dole them out in increments and keep them inline with the story plot. Ie

Jimmy was mesmerized by Jared's piercing steel blue eyes.

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  • 4 months later...

Okay, so this may be sort of an old topic but it's worth putting a post in here.


I don't like characters to have a stat sheet that's laid out in front of me. "He stood precisely 5' 9 and 1/4" tall, weighed roughly 245lbs etc etc." A little description is a good thing sometimes though. Stories in 3rd person more so than in 1st person.


Don't know about you but I don't spend all my time thinking about how I look or how tall I am etc. So for 1st person there should be as little as possible.


In 3rd person, though, start out with things that would strike me as if I was looking at the person from outside. But don't get too specific ex. "He was short with wispy hair. He had a habit of scurrying about with his eyes downcast." etc.


Guess what I'm getting at is that I like to know some things about the character and what one would tend to notice. As the story goes on, let me imagine things based on who they are. But if a character is bragging about themselves and telling the audience how good they look it can be boring.

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  • 6 months later...

On a related note, one thing I personally would love to have available are cast listings.  Play guides often begin with a list of characters in the play.  A cast listing would accomplish the same thing here.  Perhaps the chapter indices could also contain a link to a short Cast file.  It could be extracted by the author from his own story notes.  The descriptions need not be extensive, just something like:


Mary Watkins -- Tommy Johnson's maternal aunt


Just a key detail or two so a lost reader might have a quick chance to catch his bearings.

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