Character Descriptions

This week’s topic is about characters and descriptions. Daisy, the Monday Fox,  said a lot of what I had in mind about the craziness of the heroine looking in the mirror and gazing at her flowing tresses and her warm brown eyes.  Aye yi yi.  Very annoying and, as we all know, it seems to be a crutch for some writers.  And really, who does that? What person really does that? How much more likely are we to look in the mirror and fuss about a zit or how awful the rings around the eyes look after a late night?  How did it ever even become a cliche?

As for my own style, I like to sprinkle my descriptions in the story slowly and from the point of view of other characters. I’ve been accused of being very Hemingway-like in my descriptions (or lack thereof)- I find myself having to go back and insert them in the text when I’m on the second or third draft of the story.  You’ll never catch my characters perusing themselves in a mirror unless they’re slapping on some lipstick or shaving, but even then, they’ll be task oriented, not ego oriented.

In my book that comes out in July, the editor wanted me to take out a part where the villain discusses with the hero his desire for the heroine and his admiration for her large, unbound breasts. It had to be left in as the story occurs in 1920 when a lot of women bound their breasts to look like young boys. The flapper look was very much a flat chested look and my heroine is an anti flapper type. I felt it was important for this to come out in the story.  How crazy would it have been for her to discuss how great her boobs looked since they were unbound? Seems to me that would have been ludicrous. But can you just see it? Check it out:

Peg looked at herself in the full length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. She placed her hands under her large orbs and jiggled them. She giggled and whispered to her image, “your breasts are magnificent and will surely attract more men than those silly flapper girls.” 

How could I do that to my character? Isn’t it better to have the villain lust after her? And in front of the hero, to boot?


About Author

The author of these blog posts is a lawyer by day and fiction writer by night.
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17 Responses to Character Descriptions

  1. Darlene says:

    Your example made me LOL This is a big problem when writing first person


  2. danicaavet says:

    Tee-hee…I agree with you, Jillian. I like it that the villain discusses her, especially in front of the hero. It adds tension and tells the reader a little more about her without going through a shopping list of attributes in her head.


  3. Micki Gibson says:

    Even when I was a clueless newbie (okay, I’m still a newbie, but not as clueless as I once was), I still didn’t have my characters gaze into mirrors. Since I write in 1st person (very popular choice in YA), I have other characters describe them, but leave it very generically. However, I am going to have to describe my villianess somehow. Maybe she will be the one to gaze in the mirror to admire her own orbs, marveling at the fantastic job her mother’s plastic surgeon did.


  4. Lavada Dee says:

    I’m like you in that I’m pretty frugal with descriptions and have to go back and put them in. After all I ‘know’ what they look like. Another reason why I keep a workbook as I think of attributes I jot them down.


  5. jeff7salter says:

    Your example made me hot.
    I agree, Jillian: much better to slip in those descriptors when the glimpse is task-driven and not ego-driven.
    That said, some people ARE quite vain. So if your character is vain, she/he might very well be gazing upon herself/himself.


  6. Daisy Harris says:

    I had a vain character who gazed in the mirror at her beauty- and it was really fun to write! What a relief not to have to fuss about figuring out where to put my descriptions. That said, not every character can be vain. (Unfortunately.)


  7. Laurie Ryan says:

    Hilarious. Oh, boy, I sure hope I don’t have any mirror scenes. Oooh, actually, I do. But it’s 2/3 of the way through a book I have not yet published pivotal to a woman recovering from illness who hasn’t wanted to take an honest look at herself. I think, in that instance, I could be allowed to use the mirror trick. 🙂


  8. everwriting says:

    Uh oh. Having just commented on Daisy’s post, I’ve got to confess: I have a mirror scene in my upcoming book. Hanging my head in shame. It goes like this:
    “She still had a waist, mainly because her hips were wider after giving birth to two babies – two big babies. Her breasts weren’t sagging – not too much, not yet – pretty good with a support bra. Some cellulite. A few stretch marks – she could get away with a lot in low lighting.”


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