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  • Jordan Keller

What I Learned At Writing Group: Describing Characters

Updated: Apr 1

Convincing your reader to see the character you’ve spent years thinking about is not as easy as it sounds. Despite how easy it is to list your character’s physical traits on page one and call it a day, your reader will not remember it. Plus, it will read immaturely.

To put it simply, your character is so much more than their physical traits, and bleeding their personality into your book will get them off the page and become real to your reader.

For example, my favorite book is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I reread the book at least once a year and I could not tell you what color eyes the main character, Gansy, has. But I do know his breath smells like mint and he points at people when they say the correct answer to a question.

The easiest way I bleed my characters onto the page is before I start drafting I will make a list of 15-20 things about my character. Yes, 4-5 things will be physical traits, but the rest are all personality things. Fears, goals, favorite foods, music, their first crush, their most embarrassing moment, what they wear, ect, ect, etc.

Sure, I probably won’t come out and say any of those personal things, but since I know about them, I can weave it into my novel. In my series, Ashes Over Avalon, superhero Excalibur doesn’t remove his helmet, so he’s only seen drinking through a straw or eating tiny versions of candies to fit through the helmet’s mouth guard.

When you do describe your characters, because you will and that’s okay, do it when it makes sense. If your main character first sees the love interest half away across a battlefield, they will not notice their eye color from that distance. They’ll probably notice their weapon or armor. Save the eye description for when they end up slow dancing at the ball, or when one has a dagger to the other’s throat. (I’m rereading The Cruel Prince right now if you can’t tell.)

Doing the physical descriptions this way gives them more meaning because usually the character noticing them is also noticing something about themselves.

The point I want to make is the insides of your character will make them more real to your reader than their physical traits. Focus on the mint plant, not the brown (maybe?) eyes.


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