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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Describing Fictional Characters

He was tall, at least six foot four, with a mop of sun-bleached hair and a Malibu tan. His dimpled cheeks flanked a perfect nose, and a six-pack of abs peeked  from his unbuttoned shirt. Wow, I thought, he must work out every day! 

This is too much character description. Does the reader need so many details that nothing is left for her mind’s eye to play with? When I read a book, I create my own pictures of the characters. Just give me the basics—gender, approximate age, and maybe one interesting detail. I will learn all I need to know about him later on through his words and actions; sometimes his inactions.

Here’s an example from the novel I’m writing. It describes one of my characters the first time the protagonist sees him.

One man entered the dining hall several minutes after the others left. His neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard marked him as older than the other tenants, and he wore a decent-looking jacket rather than overalls. He ate his breakfast quickly, and then carried his tableware into the kitchen with a polite nod to the two women as he passed their table.

Now I just need to finish writing the story. Then I will review what I’ve written, paying close attention to how I describe my characters, making them  lean as possible (unless they’re fat, of course).

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