[found on fictionfactor.com; by Tina Morgan]
“A common trick employed by newer writers is to have a character stare into a mirror, so the reader can ‘see’ what the character is seeing. This approach often feels contrived and does not help the reader to ‘see’ your character at all.
You’ve made up your mind that the male lead of your story is average height, has brown eyes and caramel colored skin. He’s getting older, has thinning hair and a tiny bit of fat sticking out beyond his belt. He has wide shoulders and narrow hips. He’s a bit bowlegged like he’s been riding too many horses even though he’s never set foot outside the city limits. Now, how do you describe him in your story?
Bob was rapidly approaching middle age. His brown eyes didn’t focus as well as they used to and he was wearing reading glasses as he scanned the paper. His wide shoulders jutted beyond what was considered the proper amount of “personal” space at the diner counter. His closely cropped brown hair was thinning a bit on the top.
Hair color and type
Descriptions that read like grocery lists are boring. And what if your story is in first person? How would you start then?
My name is Bob, I’m a 49 year old accountant with thinning hair and reading glasses. I weigh 195 which is a bit much for my 5’8″ frame. Not that I’m fat mind you, just a little out of shape.
Again we have a list.
So when does your character introduce him/herself? Do they walk into the bathroom and start listing their features in the mirror? This is a commonly overused ploy. (the same goes for still water in lakes, ponds and puddles. Also reflections in the bottom of cooking utensils.)
Working the description slowly into the story doesn’t disrupt the flow as much as the grocery list approach does. It allows for the reader to learn about your character as they go. The trick is to keep the reader interested in your characters and how they cope with the stories conflict. The reader doesn’t really need an in-depth description to get a feel for your character. They don’t need to know every wrinkle on the character’s face. It’s more fun to read about the wrinkles in their personality.”
For more excellent tips on writing from FictionFactor, click here.