How to Physically Describe Characters in Your Novel

38 thoughts on “How to Physically Describe Characters in Your Novel

  1. Ellen Brock: "Don't have your characters describe themselves while looking in a mirror"
    Me, looking at my post it note that reminds me not to be scared of going back and correcting work: Ah, s***, here we go again.
    tbf tho minimalist descriptions have always been what I prefer. I've always just needed a small number of features (like: "oh yeah she's tall with brown skin, dark hair and yellow eyes"), particularly the abnormal/uncommon features ("yeah and she's also got a giant a** scar across her face") and always filled in gaps like clothing, most facial features and whatnot from there in that moment… somehow my brain forgot that this is literally what everyone else does as well and will now get to work on severely reducing the lengths of some passages where characters are introduced.
    Also thanks for the vid I just read the passages and they're actually awful. Without this they would've never been corrected and I can say the same about a lot of parts to my work thanks to you and other book-writing youtubers so thanks a lot.

  2. I like a character to be fully described. I want to know the shade of their hair, the colour of their eyes, if they are tanned , dark or white skinned. I want it straight out described in an obvious way.

  3. What about drawing your characters and including it in the book. Either one per chapter or like an index?

  4. I describe my characters fairly lightly. Maybe adding smaller details later. But in the current one I'm writing you get to know that he's got dark skin, long black hair and an odd eye colour. That's really all you need to know, because he stands out, and you need to know why. I think that's enough, at least at first. this way the reader won't imagine a blonde dude with short hair, and later get upset when he's not. XD That's happened to me in some books, and I hate that. When I have this character in my head, and then suddenly a description pops up, way late and it's not what I had imagined. 😛

  5. I agree it is better not to describe characters in too much detail. When reading a novel, I get an image in my mind as to what the character looks like physically. I don't like to get into a novel and the find out the character looks completely different than I had imagined from the opening scene.

    Let the reader decide what the characters look like from a minimal physical description.

  6. I learned at my critique group to avoid vague subjective labels, such as
    big, fat, tall, or ugly. Instead i mention something that will trigger a
    reaction in a reader, a tic, habit, scar, bald patch, dandruff, limp,
    speech pattern, etc.

    Something a character does can help, such as a chilling grin, fleck of saliva on the lip, piece of clothing or accessory, mode of dress or a pet phrase they use.

    Not every character needs one. The reaction of other characters can also trigger a reaction in the reader:

  7. Thank you very much for sharing this. A friend of mine says I didn't describe the look of my characters very well, but given what you've said here it sounds like people very easily go overboard with it.

  8. I use to describe to the pin-point of how every character appeared. I cut down on that a lot. Oddly enough, when I'm re-reading my manuscript of the main character's crack head biological mother. I picture something else than a skeletal walking corpse like human. After watching your video, I think I know how to fix that. The reader then can take it from there. Great video!

  9. One more thing — I dump information excessively, which prohibits me from thoroughly describing the actual story. Considering that I'm a Space and Power Fantasy writer, I'm obsessed with somehow getting the point across as dramatically as possible.

  10. My problem is that I get stressed out and feel the need to cram in my character's description the moment they're introduced.

  11. I actually used a mirror to describe my character but only when the state of her appearance changed; it wasn't hinted at all that she was hiding her scars under makeup until she bathed, washing it away and pretty much setting herself up for mental breakdown when she made the mistake of looking at it with her face undone.

  12. +MST3Killa – Do you think its ok to write a couple of paragraphs worth of description shortly after you first introduce the character? And then not mention it again.

  13. I tend to describe very little and relevant details like only hair or eyes color or not describe anything at all, especially when it comes to the main character. As you said, readers will forget it and readers tend to imagine themselves or their preferences in the characters. I think it's a right of the reader, and I wouldn't take it from them lol

  14. I think I have a problem with my main character. Basically before I actually show his full description I have written him a sort of a character who hides his appearance in public so it's hard to see his face but later on when he's fully introduce i describe his features but I guess the mistakes I made was describing his full appearance now I have to make it sound better.

  15. My character's description stems from looking into a mirror, but part of the little scene where it happens is also to establish her fear of mirrors. Is this a justifiable reason to have her character description this way (it's a short paragraph that names some of her features, but doesn't go too in-depth), or do I really need to change it?

  16. What if I put my own (MY) concept art on the cover, so they can look at the cover if they forget? Is this ok?

  17. This topic is so confusing for me, because I am an amateur with no formal writing education. I have listened to several different YT channels specifically discussing the "do's and don't's" of character physical descriptions, and everyone seems to have a different take on it. It's not surprising to hear an Editor say not to "over-describe" a character's physical appearance, but this doesn't seem quite right to me in the Fantasy/horror/sci-fi novel I am writing, because many of the characters I'm describing are so far out of the mundane, and unusual, that it feels like I'm ripping the Reader off if I don't give a good solid physical description.

  18. how do you send to publishers? a digital copy or a hard copy? should I mail it to myself beforehand?

  19. mirror cliche: I don't think it's that bad, it depends on the character. Imagine the protagonist was obsessed with beauty and something bad happened to him/her that made him/her ugly (scars for example) It would be natural for them to look at the mirror and pity herself/himself

  20. I have a problem with clothing, I never know if I should describe the clothes for a new day or not. It's especially awkward in fantasy and historical because you can't just say a shirt or jeans. Listing off clothing can be tedious to write and no doubt even more tedious to read but clothing does set a mood e.g a high society dinner would require high society clothing but can that just be assumed rather than told?

  21. Great point about putting the descriptions in early…I've just been reading a book where details on the appearance of the main character was given in the 5th and 6th chapters and I had to change how I saw that character. Not fun.

  22. What if the character is growing up from childhood throughout the book aquiring different traits? for exemple grownig a long hair and cutting it in a few years. I have like a million question to you becouse I've just started writing a book about a week ago and already halfway through. And I have no one to ask. Thanks for the videos, they are already helping. Btw, I'm from hungary.

  23. great videos. I'm an amateur writer and I enjoy these videos. They have details and much information. I published a children's book last year and recently just finished a science-fiction which will be published next month. These videos have improved my character descriptions and it's always good to consider many opinions. Keep up the great work 🙂

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