Character description

This has been bugging me for ages.

Okay, pregnancy amnesia aside, I have been trying to stay positive so that I don’t stack mood swings with rant-y moods and give myself some kind of really stupid aneurysm. But this is seriously beginning to get on my tits. I will not make the obvious joke, I’m sure several people just did. ;)

Why is it, that when a writer is asked to give a quick character description, the only details they think to include are their hair and eyes? Maybe I have some kind of prosopagnosia offshoot or something, but the first thing I take in about a person (aside from THEIR FACE, ruining my mention of prosopagnosia) tends to be their build/height and probably the clothes they’re wearing. Hair is one of the last things I notice. I also am not rude enough to stick my face close enough to determine eye colour.

In fact, eyes are one of those funny things that writers treat like no other type of human being does. To this day, the surest way to make my mum giggle at a book is if a character has “intelligent eyes”. I get it, I know I’ve done it–both the colour and other attributes thing–but it’s still ridiculous.

Seriously, why do people do this? Let’s say that I’m talking about a short story I’m writing and the person I’m talking to asks just what Agent Black looks like. I’m pretty sure the answer they are looking for is not, “She has long, straight brown hair and green eyes.” That tells you bloody nothing. Far better to say, “She’s a tall, chubby woman in her late thirties who wears a lot of heavy makeup to hide acne scars.”

I mean, why not? Yes, as often happens, it takes longer and uses more words, but isn’t it worth it? What kind of mental picture do you get with the initial hair/eyes a;sdjflav–crap?


Yeah. That’s what I thought.

And this is just from me combing through a bunch of people’s notes and that sort of thing. It’s even worse when that’s literally the only description that readers get in a “proper” narrative. I don’t mean just in the case of a writer who describes their (often main!) character in this minimal fashion once. Sometimes, a character is only ever described by their hair and eye colour, even if he/she is described often throughout the story. I think I lose the most patience when things get purple…but the character is still just a floating wig and a pair of contacts.

Anyway. That was bothering me, and now it’s not.


3 thoughts on “Character description

  1. Pingback: Rumors of War - Build, Weight, and Body Type

  2. Pingback: To Describe A Character Or Not « Notebook Pages

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