Talking about characters the other day got me thinking about a discussion I had with a few other writers some time ago, where we were talking about character descriptions and how much a person should have when writing their newest manuscript. Though less of a discussion and more closely related to a particular writer’s personal tastes, I thought I’d weigh in on the situation, both to add another voice to the discussion and just in case some other writers out there worry they use too much or too little.
For me, I like to keep character descriptions a little more vague than the rest of my comrades. Just a quick gloss over some stand out features, and then I let the reader fill in the rest of the blanks. Most of that comes from the fact that I personally find long character descriptions a bit boring, and usually fill in the void after I skip the majority of a particular character’s description. This isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed a lengthy character description, where a writer lists a thin, tight-set jaw, or triangular noses seemingly carved from marble. But most of the time, I make up what the character looks like anyway, so I don’t pay it too much attention.
As for the amount a particular writer should use, I believe it’s not set in stone, and the writer should use just as much as he or she thinks she needs to use. Over the course of additional books, I feel readers will adapt to a writer’s particular way of describing characters, identifying his or her process as part of the writer’s style.
And, of course, some genres lend more to character descriptions than others. But for the most part, I think people should just do their thing, only noting stand out features of a character when they are relevant to the plot. Like lightning bolt shaped scars and that sort of thing.
So all in all, just do your thing. Character descriptions are just another part of an individual writer’s style, and similarly to page counts, I don’t think many writers should worry about the specifics, just as long as readers aren’t having trouble visualizing your characters. If that happens, maybe dial it up a little bit. But I don’t think most writers should bog down their narrative with obtuse character descriptions.
Now if only I could find that example I found years ago that went on for several pages. Like, it took this one writer between four and six pages to describe this woman to us. And in the end, the character looking at her stated simply “You’re very beautiful.”
Yea…Indie writers. Gotta love em, right?