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The last person you'd think to describe.


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For all I know, this has been asked. Just because I didn't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there...

 

We've all managed to create worlds, people them, and poke things into happening. But, I'm finding that the hardest description to weave in naturally is that of the person doing the rest of the descriptions.

 

Why would the narrator narrate themselves? Ask me what I'm wearing and I'll give you a list.  But I'm not naturally inclined to describe myself the way I would describe the jerk I can't stand or the love of my life. 

 

In my story, Predators, I tried to have the narrator reflect on aspects of his appearance at points it was natural to reflect upon them. 

I've been hearing that he's hard to picture from the neck up. 

 

How do you folks bring the storyteller into their story?

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If it's a 1st person narrative...gathering from the characters around your narrator, as to how they percieve your narrator, or when your narrator has an introspective phase of him or herself, is the good alternate.

 

Another way is through the narrator's actions: I brushed my tapered hair, much to my mother's dissaproving glances, to what I consider as 'Fashionably Relevant' with the times, when the blue streaks below my brows squinted to allay her fears...that I will not have it dyed to orange or green, like what I've done last summer. She's too prim, and I'm too rad, said my non-existent fashionista version of my self.

 

Unless it's fiction, then you have all the resources to describe the character. But with nonfic, it's kinda technical.

 

It's easier in a 3rd person POV though.

 

But the problem with putting too much character details, it limits your readers to stick to how you've envisioned your characters to be. Compared to describing let's say a man whose hair has receded with the times, and an engorged torso reminscent of an indulgent life, against, the balding corpulent man... The latter provides freedom to the readers as to how they see them unfold.

 

But, if it is within your creative input to thoroughly define a character's physicality, then it's your choice to do so.

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As @LJCC said, the best way to do it when using 1st person is to do it piecemeal. Actions, dialogue from other characters, or simply reflection. Please don't have the narrator look at himself in the mirror; that's been done to death.

 

Quote

I suppressed a number of curse words as I bumped my head on the overhanging branch.

Matt laughed "Serves yourself right for being too fucking tall."

"If I wasn't tall, I wouldn't be on the school's basketball team, I wouldn't have been able to introduce you to Ken, so keep your mouth shut."

"Yeah, but I've got Ken now, and I don't need a stick insect like you any more." Matt slapped my back to show he wasn't serious. "Now let's get to the beach so we can go swimming."

 At the mention of the beach, I instinctively checked I hadn't dropped my bag. After being burnt too many times in the past due to my pale complexion, carrying too much suntan lotion was very much a habit.

 

From that short passage we know the narrator is tall, thin and with a pale complexion. It's probable he's either a redhead or blond, as they tend to go with a pale complexion, but more story would be need, such as having someone calling him "Red" as a nickname, to confirm that.

Edited by Graeme
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I avoid First-Person perspectives (though I've posted a few on GA, as practice pieces), mainly because I hate writing in First-Person. This is one of the reasons why. I have an idea what my characters look like, and First-Person is too restrictive and limiting to express it, without resorting to the "mirror trope" or the "dialogue trope" that Graeme just exampled. Both are over-played.

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I agree with @BHopper2 regarding the mirror trope, but only partly agree on the dialogue trope. Using dialogue and narrative, as per my example, can still come over as stilted---as per that example--but that usually occurs if the author is forcing it and not letting the narrative and dialogue to flow naturally. Ideally, that short section should've been several pages long, with the various parts sprinkled throughout in a much more natural way. When done properly, the reader will develop a mental picture of the narrator without any explicit info dump required. 

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Hmmm... when I read the original post, I was going to say, there is the much overused mirror trope. lol.

I used a dream state to do it a little in my Harry Potter fanfiction, Parliament of Dreams.  I've never been a big fan of how it worked out though. 

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Sometimes, if I'm writing something that tends to be very descriptive to begin with (as may be the character's specific style) I'll throw a quick, general description from the narrator right out front. It seems amateurish, and being me it probably is, but for certain characters it works to my read-through. I only actually ever did this once, so I may have blown my once chance at doing something like that so as not to become repetitive in styI le in other works.

 

@LJCC, I agree for the most part. I see a character reflected in the eyes of other characters. Either by what they tell the character directly "I love that beautiful hair of yours. It really looks like . . . spun gold!" or, if it's a multi-perspective story, you simply have each personna dramatica make their own descriptions of the other characters. 

Edited by MrM
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I'm of the idea of letting the other characters describe the narrator's looks. Although, I'm rather ambiguous with that myself, I've honestly never really cared much, as I let people I guess imagine/picture what they wish from the content that I've given them. Otherwise, I don't push a distinctly painted picture of my characters. It may be a fault of mine not to be more descriptive, but no one has really come to me and said, "I just cannot picture these characters," if you're not running into that issue, maybe there isn't one. Maybe it is just being your own worst critic. I was looking back on someone that did some paintings and posted in the Gallery for a couple of characters of mine, they were so lovely.. and they were of the intention of what they were supposed to look like. :D So that made me happy looking back on that particular story.

 

But yes, like others have said.. stay away from the Mirror trope.. but I think it is okay for you to allow other characters to explain the narrator as they see them. It may not be what lines up with what the narrator thinks of himself, but that is for the reader to decide as far as that goes. I think it would be a good practice for a Narrator to be so contrasting to what the other characters see and.. it is because they themselves are overly critical and they're in their own way as far as character growth is concerned. I think Dom did something like that with The Long Way, if I'm remembering correctly. :)

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Just a quick thank you for all whom have offered answers to my quandary, and all who may yet. 

 

Given me much to be considered. I'll share my further thoughts soon. 

 

Thank you,

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Well, I think there are some clever ways to give your character's physical appearance some definition, and that really only comes through practice and instinct. It depends on how important it is for you to get your readers to envision your characters a certain way. @Graeme had a GREAT example up above, using dialogue and action to demonstrate that he was tall and on the basketball team. Information and physical descriptions delivered in just a few sentences. Brilliant.

 

Now, does your narrator's appearance going to be of major importance to your story? Is your character being extra tall, or overweight, or having long hair, or being packed with muscles, or having a particularly piercing set of blue eyes, going to impact the story in a noticeable way? If not, then there's no crime in mentioning their looks somewhere along the way, but I wouldn't stress over it too much. Details like, do they wear glasses, are they on crutches from a broken ankle, or are they short enough to be insecure about their size? These things have an impact on the character and the story you're trying to tell. But, if they're blond or brunette, have freckles or a birthmark on the side of their cheek? Those a great bonuses, but treat them as bonuses. Don't let it hold up your writing if you're having trouble with it. Keep going! You might even find a great way to add those details later on as you're fleshing everything out.

 

Also, as mentioned above, sometimes the descriptions aren't even necessary. Most people don't recognize it at all, but I have a story called "My Only Escape" that I've been writing for years...but I've never really given much description at all as to what the main character, Zack, looks like. In fact, I made sure not to really go into detail about what his parents look like either. The story describes his friends and his love interest, etc...but everything about his physical appearance is excessively vague. (Hehehe, wait...is excessively vague an oxymoron? Ah well...) But it creates the sense that 'this can be any kid, from any community, from anywhere in the world', and the reader is able to fill in the blanks on their own. If anything, it makes it more personal to your audience.

 

Anyway, if the descriptions affect the story, then go for it. If not, it's ok to give your readers some room to envision things their own way. 

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