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Introduction description of the MC

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Reilith, Apr 21, 2016.

  1. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I am having a little problem. My new project is going well, even with my lack of time, but one thing from the start of the story is bugging me to the point I can't ignore it. So I come to you for help!

    In the first chapter, there are multiple scenes, each one with one MC's POV. Now the problem is that I am writing this fully in their POV, so there is no storyteller sort of speaking. And I hate describing MC's the way they see themselves. I don't mind an adjective here and there, but full blows descriptions of the MC whose POV it is in the scene is something I am not keen on. So, would it be too much if the actual full description (eyes, face, hair, body etc.) happened later in the chapter, or even in the second one, so I can get the MC's in the same scene where they can look at each other with their own eyes?

    Example:
    Wade looked at Mark. Mark was not high, but had a nice stocky build, brown eyes and black hair topped with a scruffy beard.
    Mark looked at Wade, noticing that Wade was balding. He had big eyes and nose, but his smile was warm and friendly.

    The only other idea I have is for the MC's to look in the mirror too much, and that breaks pace. :D

    Or am I over-thinking this simple problem that could be solved with embellished storytelling and half MC POV and half omnipresent storyteller?

    Sorry if it's not explained properly, I am writing in a hurry.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Yes. Stopping the action to give descriptions can break the flow.
    To get much of the same information across I’d take a different approach, make it part of the action...
    Or something like that...
     
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think you are overthinking this.

    You don't have to put a POV character's appearance out fast, at least not lots of detail. If there are any defining characteristics that are unusual and will affect many things later, e.g., extreme height or weight, or a physical disability, those things could be folded in as a part of the action. (Character can't reach something on a shelf and curses her shortness; huffing and puffing because overweight; etc.)

    You can also, if you want, have another character mention something in dialogue to clue a reader in: "Hey pipsqueak, scurry under any garbage heaps lately?"

    Things like hair color and eye color simply aren't very important unless they'll play a role in identifying the character later. For example, later there'll be a discussion about a suspect in a crime and your character is a suspect. If your POV characters already know or know of each other, your first chapter could include something like this, where one POV character discusses a later POV character with some side character:

    "Jord's a creep."

    "Jord? Is that the guy always chasing after Merideth?"

    "No, that's Benjan. Jord's the guy with dark hair and a pimply face."

    –and then next scene features Jord as POV character.

    In any case, you have some time to get lots of information out there, don't need it all at once.

    You can also use multiple methods to deliver little bits and pieces. So you could have one of your characters see her reflection in a pool of water and bemoan her scruffy appearance briefly, her hair cut raggedly, before quickly moving on. No need for lots of staring in a mirror pondering every detail all at once, and no need for frequent trips to the mirror!
     
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  4. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I understand what you're saying, this was just a weak example. What I am referring to is that in the first chapter I don't have enough interaction between POV's that could actually look at the others and say or think those things. If person A is observing and is the POV, there is no one else to observe him and show us how he looks.
     
  5. AJ Stevens

    AJ Stevens Minstrel

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    In my experience, it's common practice to give descriptions as an over-arching narrator. When you write a 'POV,' it's part what the character in question sees, thinks, smells, etc. - their interaction with the environment. The other part is what the character does - that part is you as the author filling in the detail about appearance, actions, and so on.

    You can think of it as internal and external, I suppose. You don't willfully observe yourself walking down a corridor, for example, but you might notice a picture on the wall and have a view on it.

    So, for example...

    Mark shouldered his battered sack and strode down the corridor, taking a moment to observe an angry depiction of some ancient battle scene. His full lips pursed as he noticed a minor detail....

    From that, you know the state of his sack and what his lips are like, yet it's still Mark's POV, and you get an idea of what he thinks of the painting.

    As for how to introduce the details, I prefer to drip-feed them and build up a picture. Bring in features when it adds something to a particular passage. Some people will tell you that you can have a MC and give no description anywhere at all, and it still works, so you're not obliged or committed to do anything.

    Hope that helps some.
     
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  6. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I think I allowed myself to over-think it too much because I recently read that not having a description of something - room, city, character, can be quite confusing. It allows the reader to paint their own picture and then later when I add in the details, it crumbles the image they created in their mind.

    But yes, thank you, I think I might know how to go with it from here. Also feel free to post more, this could be a nice discussion about describing MC's through different ways of writing :D
     
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    This is a risk, but there is most always a way to get in some description. If you are going to describe your MC, do it early, in my opinion. When looking at complaints of readers, you will find them complaining about a POV not being described, while you will be hard pressed to find readers complaining because a character was described, LOL, unless they've had too much time to form their own vision. Me as a reader, I don't really care if the MC is ever "described" in physical appearance, but again, I'm not going to complain if they are.

    I have to consciously go back and add character and location descriptions because if I'm in flow, I don't always stick them in there to ground the reader... which is amusing, because back when I started writing I was accused of describing everything to death, LOL.

    But opportunities abound in mirror methods and really, anything that might make a character self-aware gives the narrative voice the opportunity to describe the MC... seeing another person automatically gives the narrator license to delve into the MC's self-awareness. If seeing a beauty they are cowed, if they wouldn't give a plain looking person of the opposite sex the time of day, if an average NFL linebacker is to them puny, whatever.

     
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  8. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Maybe stick with the features that would stand out the most to a person that just met them. I don't really care for the head to toe description, especially with wardrobe included (unless they are wearing something strange enough to warrant it). You might have a MC that has brown hair, green eyes and a beard, but he's over seven feet tall. His height is going to be the first thing a person notices about him. If his hair is really long, or he has a huge beard, that might be the next thing to mention, but only if it stands out enough. The character can always run a hand through his beard or hair later on in order to add that description.

    My MC has iron gray hair and goatee but the face of someone in their early 30's; so there's a contrast there which is unusual enough to point out. He also has eyes that are a dark amber color. I don't need to describe all of his facial features as those two things stand out enough.
     
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  9. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

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    I think too many authors over describe a character.
    Sure you need to specify the main identifiable features to get started, enough to generate an idea in the reader's head - but some of the detail can come later and piecemeal.
    There are advantages to this - it's faster, and readers can self identify easier with a character if there aren't too many ideas that contradict their own imagined appearance.

    (A bit like scripts where the description is left fairly sparse so that the director is freer to imagine what they like).
     
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  10. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    The simple answer then is to redesign your introductory scene to allow for this.

    For myself, I don't drop a whole lot of description about my POV characters. Generally, I present a feel for them through word choices and how they interact with the world. When I do want to drop a specific detail about them, I design the scene to allow me this, so it comes out naturally.

    Simple example. You want to show your character is very tall, maybe design the scene so they're in a room with something for them to bump their heads on. Want to show a character has long hair, have their sibling grab them by it and drag them across the room in response to something. Want to show that hair is black, have them find a strand in their oatmeal while making breakfast.
     
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  11. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I have managed to redesign the scene with minimal changes that allowed me to add in bits of informstion about the character's description. Thank you everyone!

    Sent from my HTC Desire 820 using Tapatalk
     
  12. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Wow, how eye-opening. I've always disliked character descriptions, and I thought it was because I read a lot of historical romance, in which all the characters pretty much look the same. So I never desired a description and usually intentionally ignored the ones that were given. Maybe it's just me, but I like a character defined by the unusual things. I look for unusual descriptions that tell me more than just what is on the surface. Am I so much in the minority? Will readers dislike the fact that I rarely mention hair or eye color or skin tone unless it's somehow important to the story (which it almost never is)?
     
  13. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I don't think that's a problem. I try to do something similar myself, though not quite the same as your approach. I look at character descriptions as being another opportunity for character development, otherwise it's just a bunch of uninteresting facts, like you said. So I try to describe the character in a way that gives the reader a sense of all the basic stuff (hair, facial features, build, etc.) while also hinting at their personality and disposition. It's all about choosing the right words, especially adjectives, and if done well it gives a nice injection of flavor.
     
  14. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I am terrible at this. I tend to skim past descriptions when they are given, unless it is something really unusual. Like, I know Jaime Lannister is blonde and has a golden hand. The rest I make up. Arya has short hair. Cercie is beautiful but evil. Tyrion is a dwarf. The rest is white noise to me.

    I tend to avoid too much physical description of my characters unless it is important... But I do believe in providing a "hook and an eyepatch"... Or that one thing that sets the character apart in the readers imagination. So, if your mc is going on a quest with group then it is helpful if one has two different colour eyes, one has a shaved head, one is an elf with a missing ear, and one is a half orcish woman with a unicorn tattoo... That way the reader has that one thing to keep them all straight.
     
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  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Apparently the mirror description is one of those cliche turnoffs people tell you not to do. Describing characters later on is also a problem because readers will already have an image of their own by then. You risk contradicting it.

    But there's so much more to a deep POV than a locked camera angle. You've got the character's memories, their impressions of themselves, and the way they think other people see them. "Brown tangled hair and blue eyes and freckles wearing a red tunic and boots with a bowler hat" sounds like the description a guard would make describing the culprit to his or her boss. But, "He started wearing a bowler hat after people mocked his tangled hair" - that tells me something real about the character and deepens the POV instead of breaking it.

    I think people really underestimate the value of a good description. I really do.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2016
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  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm much the same when reading. I fill things in on my own, although I do vaguely recall a few times where something about a character is mentioned late in a book and I stumble over it because it doesn't match my picture. Usually I just dismiss it and move on, continuing to think of the character in the way I have been.

    I don't think they're a bad thing at all, in their various forms, but they need to fit within a scene and with the characters you have.

    Most peasants aren't going to own any kind of mirror, but nobility might and might be rather preoccupied with their appearance, especially if they are going to meet royalty, a love interest, etc. Maybe if a peasant suddenly becomes a servant to nobility or royalty, his/her first encounter with a large finely-made mirror might prompt a little surprise and staring.

    Non-mirror mirrors, like pools of water or a shiny shield propped against a bench can work also, but many types of characters simply wouldn't notice themselves in those at a glance or think of themselves even if they did. One character might notice the new scar running down his face but not think about the color of his own hair and eyes...

    I'm more irritated by the hit-me-over-the-head variety, which usually includes a long musing over every single aspect of a character's appearance. I.e., a contrived situation used simply to dump a lot of info about the character's appearance.
     
  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I think the problem with mirrors is when they are literal... your POV looks into a mirror, into water. When I say mirror, I mean pretty much everything but a literal reflective surface. I use mirrors all over in my fiction, most of the times not even knowing it until I reread. First book I ever wrote I went back over years later and there were plot mirrors everywhere tying varied POV's chapters together, not a one on purpose. Kind of freaked me out.

    In general, I fall into the skim character description camp. Even if I do read them, most details will fade, but I understand that for some folks descrips are important... so I'm certainly going to complain about them.

     
  18. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    If the mirror serves a purpose other than just a convenient moment to get out some character description then I don't see the problem.
     
  19. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    My thought is that it's actually better to leave a lot to the imagination when it comes to your MC's. One of the things that's been said about the success of Twilight is that it is owed in part to Bella being fairly non-descript. That means readers - by which I meen other teenage girls - having little to work with, are able to imagine the character, and to imagine themselves as her. Now imagine that Bella had been seven feet tall with a hooked nose! Try to guess how many of her readers would still be able to do that.

    Try to stick to generalities where it's discussed. Things like "She stared at her image in the pond. Why did she have to look so plain, she thought?" Distinguishing features, hooks and eye patches should be introduced early, but probably only in casual ways, and as they affect the plot. eg:

    "You deal." The man tossed a pack of playing cards at him.

    Harm stared at him disbelievingly, then raised his hook, wordlessly pointing out the obvious problem.


    Cheers, Greg.
     
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Different POV and different stories require (or are suggestive) of different approaches. if you spend 4 chapters in a 3rd intimate with a character, without describing the POV (giving the reader ample chance to form their own image willy nilly) then, switch POV and the other POV describes the other and wham! the reader is hit with a description that defies their expectations, some folks will have an issue. Some won't. Agents and publishers will be gun shy of it, from what I understand. If in a 1st POV that never breaks, there is absolutely no reason to describe the person unless its meaningful to the story.

    I think the key is the suggestion, IF you are going to describe a character, do it early.

    As usual, it's do what works, but make sure you know it works, LOL.

     
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