Saturday, January 1, 2011

Describing Point-of-View Characters

Ray Rhamey at Flogging the Quill has a great post up on his blog about this topic. I've struggled mightily with decisions about how much to describe and how.

I've come to the conclusion that although Ray's post is right on the nose for the kind of fiction he writes (mostly suspense), the question of how much to describe does differ among genres.  Romance seems to almost require detailed physical descriptions of main characters.  Science fiction and fantasy require some description as well, since the characters are expected to be physically unusual in some way.  Other genres can leave more to the imagination, since they are more obviously ordinary humans except for some distinguishing characteristic like a unibrow or flaming red hair.

What do you think?  How do you handle the problem of describing point-of-view characters?  Or do you prefer to leave it up to the reader?  How much description do you think is expected in your genre?


  1. Great question Christine and one that I struggle with constantly. I think in my last book I only gave one unique description for each character. For Uncle Sally it was his hands. Genna her crazy hair. Pete his eyes. I truthfully don't think I've described anyone beyond that.

    I'm used to reading the old historicals which were inundated with descriptions of flowing chestnut hair and eyes that could bore into your soul. lol

    I think it's up to the writer to decide. In my own writing, I leave it up to the reader to supply the description.

    Happy New Year!

  2. i know i'm not describing them enough in my current manuscript. hoping to add more as i go, along with world building. hoping you can help me with that. :)

  3. Well, you may not need to describe as much as you think. It may be just right already. But of course I'm happy to help! I'm just thrilled it gives me an excuse to read the sequel to Eldala before it's offical.

  4. Hi! Sorry about the random comment-er, but I found you through another blog =P

    I have a science fiction book, and what I'll do before describing the characters is concentrate on what makes normal humans unique. If I make up something wild just to make them unique, it'll seem fake, so I want to know them as humans before I make them super-human.
    Then I'll draw a picture and add the things I want. My main character is small, and is missing half of his right ear; his sidekick is a clone who didn't developed correctly, and thus has mechanical legs; and the girl who helps them is a mutant with a blue skin tone who breathes underwater.

    Once I know why they look the way they look, describing them becomes much easier. (As for describing the PoV character, I have the MC fiddle with his right ear when he's nervous, and I have the side character make fun of how short he is.)

  5. I probably overwrite the description in my Trilogy (womens fiction), but its to give the characters emotional response to the person usually. In the fantasy, there's usually a reason for the description that is needed for character credibility.

    But you're probably right about character descriptions and how much they differ genre to genre.


  6. Welcome Danielle! I appreciate your comment. Good point about what makes them unique. My problem is that I have a whole race of characters who don't seem unique to themselves, but would seem very unique (as a race) to a human.


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