Character Descriptions

In some books nowadays, the main character is a blank slate. Hair color and maybe eye color are given. And probably a general statement of if they’re large or small or in-between.

But what kind of nose do they have? What kind of facial tics show up when they’re emotional? What about their jawline? Freckles? Hands? Specific interests?

These are the kinds of things that are honestly pretty helpful sometimes.

This isn’t saying you have to have them. And it’s especially not saying you have to smush it all in one paragraph at the beginning.

You can have the reader try to put the pieces together as it goes.

Or just let them imagine for themselves.

That is, if it’s not accompanied by a picture.

You don’t have to describe your character. A blank slate is an easy way to get someone to identify with your character and step into their shoes.

The following is an example and not an insult:

In Twilight (the books specifically for this example), what do we know about Bella Swan? Nobody comments on how tall or short she is, so she can be assumed to be about average height. She definitely has brown hair and brown eyes. The hair is something like shoulder-length, if I remember correctly. She likes to read. And is decent at science. And she’s clumsy. She’s awkward around boys. She feels alone and isolated at times.

Okay, who does that sound like? About a third of all teenage girls. So a third of teenage girls will find Bella captivating because she’s vague enough that she’s just like them. And then there are the moms who like Bella because she reminds them of their teenage selves.

It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good marketing technique. If you can create a vague template of someone, then many people will be able to identify with them.

But not everyone wants to step into a character’s shoes. That’s where it’s up to you–do you want a lot of people to identify with your character, or would you rather have someone a little different that may or may not be likable?

I’m not very good at slipping in details about characters. But I do a lot of narrating. And in that narration, you can get an idea of what’s going on in that character’s head, even if they’re not direct thoughts. And once you go there, you start to lose the people who want someone just like them, because they start to go, “Wow, that character is definitely reacting in a way I wouldn’t.”

But then you have the escapists. These are the people who want to be your characters. They aren’t like them, but the characters are so cool and interesting that they wish they could be like them. And they lose themselves in that.

Both of these are okay.

I can’t stress that enough.

If you prefer one over the other, then good for you! Write whichever one works best for you. I do suggest giving the other a try from time to time so you don’t get in a rut. But do what works.

You don’t have to do what’s popular. But you don’t have to go off the beaten path if you don’t want to.

It’s your story. Write it how you want to.

The people who like what you have to say will read it. You can’t cater to everyone. If you try to swap it up in the same story, the story will feel jagged and inconsistent. Know how you want to do it and do it that way. Make yourself happy. Someone will read it. You just don’t know who yet.

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