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ReferenceforWriters is a writing advice, tips, help, and inspiration blog. It has existed for over a year now, a fact I’m truly thrilled about.
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Description has always been tricky. Too much? Too little? In my opinion there should be a balance. Enough so we know where your character is but not so little we have no idea if they are in the middle of the ocean or lost in a black void of nothingness (and if they were, it’d be interesting to describe that).
It’s common to describe when the character enters a new environment and go from there. So regarding your question: a little bit of both? If I’m in a place for the very first time, I’m not going to notice everything straight away. I will pay attention to the details that draw my attention the most. Then, as I’m more familiarized with my surroundings, I may be able to describe things that aren’t noticeable in the first try.
I’m gonna quote this from this article:
Describe your character’s appearance by how they feel about it. People have complicated relationships with their appearance and even what they wear. Don’t let the chance to explore your character slip away by neglecting that!
Let’s see what the article says:
Why it’s a cop out: It’s lazy, it’s been done to death, and anyway, no one looks in a mirror and takes stock of all their features in severe detail. I would argue you don’t need to belabor the description of your main character anyway. You can hit the big points—if your character’s defining trait is a deformity or a hairstyle—there are ways to work that into the narrative. For the rest of if, you have to trust the reader. First that they don’t need to be coddled, and second, that they’ll project something onto the character.
This is what I meant by “wrong conclusions”, so I agree with you.
And if you feel like you have to tell people “hey, this person is a person of color” you may as well describe the skin color of those who are not. If you’re doing it for one, do it for the other.
I think it is good to let your readers use their imagination. But to an extent. There has to be some degree of description you have to provide. Otherwise, they (the readers) may end up having the wrong conclusions.
How much is enough?
If it bores and bogs down the story, it’s too much.
If there’s no sense on who the person is, it’s too little.
However, I’ve seen books with little to no description of the characters, so if you think it’s not relevant to the story you want to transmit, then it isn’t. Describing your characters for the sake of doing it leads nowhere, it’s what those details bring to the table what really matter. And if those details aren’t necessary, don’t include them. I hardly describe my characters when I write short stories, for example, as all the meaning I want to give is in the action.
I like to describe my characters, though, just the way I like to describe the settings and the surroundings where my characters are in. I like the imaginery I can provide to them and giving my readers a nice idea of what my characters look like.
Followers? Any opinions?
Something I’ve read several times is to never use food to describe skin color. No chocolate, no coffee or anything like that. It’s offensive.
I answered an ask very similar to this once regarding asian looking characters in a universe where Asia doesn’t even exist. I think the advice I gave there is applicable here as well.
You describe their features, rather than just saying what race/ethnicity they are. You describe the color of their skin, the characteristics of their faces, their hair, and how they look overall the way you’d describe any other character. Here’s how to describe a character’s looks well. Here’s how to describe eyes. Here’s help describing skin color.
WriteWorld’s skin deep tag is a good place where to find useful things.
Overall, I don’t know that much about Fantasy as a genre, so if anyone has tips, you can always reply and/or slap me.
Make them relatable. Think about that time you felt what your character felt, or something close to it. Be specific, don’t just write “he was happy”, tell us why he was happy, or how happy he is. If I were standing next to him, how would I know he’s happy? what is he doing? what’s the expression in his face? Use the setting. I don’t mean you should make it rain when it’s a sad scene, I’m saying people perceive what’s around them differently when they’re feeling a certain way. If they’re happy, they may fail to notice their dull grey surroundings, or even find them beautiful. Use internal dialogue, tell us about what your character is thinking.
Merely telling us about your character’s emotions will do nothing. Explain them to us, show them to us.