Describing Characters

Sometimes when I read fiction, I’m surprised at how vague character description can sometimes be.

Example: in one published book an author described a character as colorfully dressed. What does that mean? It gives you no picture of who the character is or where he comes from. Was he dressed in blue and green of his tribe? Was he dressed for the holidays? Red and green for Christmas or black and orange for Halloween?

If I say two women were dressed in black, what does that tell you? What do you know about them? Nothing.

But if I say:

One woman has long, stringy, black hair; thick, black eyeliner; black lipstick and fingernails; long sleeve, black tee-shirt; baggy, back pants, and black combat boots.

The other woman has long, shinny black hair, a hint of eyeliner, ruby lips and matching fingernails, little black dress, black stockings, and black heals.

Both woman are 5’6” tall and weigh 130 pounds. They might even be identical twins, but by their dress, they have completely different personalities. Depending on your worldview, you may be interested in one, but not the other.

If they are identical twins, how did they become so different?

JacInTheBox just published a short story. Jackie did a great job describing her main female character. By her dress we know who she is and what she is about, or at least we think we do.

Take a look as how you handle your characters. Are they well described or are they too vague? Have a friend you trust read a character distribution and tell you what they think. If need be, make changes accordingly.

Read how your favorite authors describe their characters. Read how your least favorite authors do it. What do you like and don’t like? Can you use what you learn from them to help improve your characters?

If you decide to rewrite something you’ve already posed, reposed it. Then ask readers to compare the two. Hopefully they will like the improvements.