Feed Item

Hi Eric, I'd say the appearance of most characters in most novels and short stories isn't described but their circumstances and actions let us form a picture. Age, gender, ethnicity, social class, clothing choices and the time they're living in - needless to say, all those things can be referred to and it's often not what an author says but the way they say it which provides the main impression. Or the way they get their character to say it, as part of that character's personality.

If I'm looking for a general guideline it's to ask the needs of the novel/story and of the reader. Obviously some characters require a bit or quite a lot of physical description. Jack Reacher's height is relevant, as is the height and width of the MC in Kevin Barry's short story 'Last Days of the Buffalo'. Some of this man's clothing is described too but, this being a Kevin Barry short story, nothing is extraneous to the needs of the story and reader. (Also, KB can be critical, comic and very sympathetic towards his characters all at the same time. That's the kind of skill I can only dream of :-) )

As a reader, the only time I've really needed more physical description is in some novels with two or three POV characters and all of them the same gender, ethnicity, social background and roughly the same age. I've noticed it more with first person narrators, when it can be a challenge for a character to describe even a small detail of their own appearance without the writing being clunky. But I'm a visual reader and I've just wanted something - anything - to distinguish the characters and stop me producing some generic image which could fit any of them. 

As as writer I can see the physiques and clothing of all my characters and the detailed faces of my main characters. I'd definitely recognise them in the street but I know many authors don't want to or need to do that with their creations. In my writing I try to describe only the things I need to. Whether I'm successful is another question :-) 

Comments
Info