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Do You like Detailed Character Descriptions?

Starar
By Starar Band [CC-BY-2.0],via Wikimedia

In my short stories, I’ve never gone in for detailed descriptions of characters. In my first attempt at a novel, I find I do end up describing the characters, though a very little.
 I found this on an old blog post by Janice Hardy:

 I’m the type who dislikes a lot of description, and I admit, I skim when it’s clear it’s a big “this is what stuff looks like” paragraph. Even description about a character. I’m much more interested in who they and what they’ll do than what they look like. Because of my personal feelings, I tend to be sparse when I write my own character descriptions. In fact, if I didn’t know there are folks out there who love knowing what someone looks like, I’d probably skip them altogether. 

I tend to agree with her. Physical descriptions of my characters are at best spare, even in my WIP.

As a reader, I’ve always preferred creating my own picture of the character, and find descriptions of characters especially in fantasy novels ‘firm young bosom’, ‘long, curly sideburns’ a little corny when given on their own. As part of an action or dialogue, they seem a little more apropos, provided the author avoids clichΓ©.

So if character descriptions were steak (gross, right? lol), I’d like mine rare, medium rare at the most. I won’t bite if they’re well done.

So, dear readers and writers, how do you like your characters? Very rare, Rare, Medium-rare, or Well done?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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15 Comments

  • Mina Lobo says:

    LOL, I dig this steak metaphor (possibly, 'cause I've got the munchies right not). But anyway, I reckon that if the descriptions flow easily and organically throughout the narrative, as opposed to a big info-dump, I'd consider that "well done." πŸ™‚
    Some Dark Romantic

  • Jeff Hargett says:

    I'm with you on this. I've been "called on the carpet" for not providing enough character description in my stories, but I prefer to give just an element or two and let the reader paint the rest. This holds true unless there is something important about the description: a scar that taints the character's self-image, acne to the point that people stop and point, a head that's bald because of cancer treatment, etc. To me, that's when description is important.

  • If it's important to the story, or if it's carefully done so that it doesn't stand out, then I'm happy to read it. As for writing, I'll only describe a character if it's truly essential – and there are times when it is.

    I'm also not keen on long descriptions of rolling hills!

  • Hi Damyanti, I actually enjoy lengthy descriptions of characters, but not all in one big chunk, it's best when it's spread throughout the whole novel so I can gather an increasingly clearer picture of a character the further I keep reading. I like to be able to picture exactly what the author wants a character to look like.

  • Kelley Lynn says:

    Oh my gosh. This is SO my post. haha.

    I skim (or skip… haha) all paragraphs that look like they're description. As such I tend to have little description in my work. My publisher told me I need more, so I will definitely have to add some. The trick then is to add it in a way so that people like me won't skim πŸ˜‰

  • A few descriptions thrown in here and there won't bother me, but any long description paragraph will. Actually, any long paragraph bothers me. πŸ˜‰ Description gets especially tricky when the character is supposed to be attractive. Not everyone finds a specific stereotype attractive, so it's hard!

  • I skim long paragraphs too. That's why I leave my descriptions short.

  • When I write descriptions in my books, I write just enough to give them a basic idea, and then I let the reader take the reins, and I appreciate the same when I am reading–just enough–not too much. I suppose I'm…med rare.

  • nutschell says:

    I enjoy dreaming up an image of the main character so I don't really care for long descriptions.:)
    Nutschell
    http://www.thewritingnut.com

  • Lynn Proctor says:

    yeah i would probably have to say i prefer med rare—not much into telling all about the physical appearance unless it is useful —fun question πŸ™‚

  • ankewehner says:

    I don't like detailed descriptions. If the book is in first person or tight third person viewpoint, it tends to throw me out of the story when something is described when the viewpoint character has no apparent reason to think about it.

  • I like sparse descriptions (and that's how I describe my own characters) because I have an imagination and am capable of using it!

  • There are times I tend not to go into great detail when describing something. Other times, I go overboard, but it's usually the first draft and I end up cutting most. In terms of reading, it depends on how interested I am in the story if I skim a description or not.

  • shelly says:

    I'm pretty much the same. And I really don't care about what they're wearing unless its something totally outrageous.

    I like strong dialogue which could probably tell or show you what they'de probably wear and look like.

    Shelly
    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

    http://www.shellysnovicewritings.blogspot.com/

  • Jo says:

    You know, I've never really thought about it. I do know I tend to skim long descriptions of any kind so I probably would skim character descriptions as well. Will have to take note in future.

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