If there is something that drives me crazy when I’m reading it’s the “looking in the mirror” description trope used by far too many writers.
Rise Up! Break the habit! Our characters deserve better!
looked down at her small, 5’4” body and sighed. With a practiced
gesture she moved her long, curly black waves over her shoulder, bending
to pick up the step-stool. By stretching just right she could still
just barely reach the glasses, and had just finished getting them down
when her supervisor walked in.”
a great description. Yes. we know her height, hair color/length. I
could probably have thrown in her eye color. We can tell she’s a bit
annoyed at being so short, and she practices moves to draw people’s eyes
away from her short stature. Yes. It’s description. But it’s stifling.
Wouldn’t you agree?
this. Try describing your character simply by the actions that portray
their physicality. This character is a shorter person. She needs a step
stool. Or she wears high heels. I could say,
the wine glasses were out of reach, Brenda went to get the dreaded
step-stool. She kicked off her Louboutin’s and stomped up the three
steps. “Stupid thing!” Carefully placing the glasses on the granite
counter beside her, she had just about finished when her supervisor came
into the room.”
the same thing in an entirely different way. In fact, you can fit a lot
more interesting details in when you free yourself from having to Show
description. Tell me what your character does. How your character moves
about in the world. How they are awkward, or comfortable, in their own
skin. How they trip over their own feet because they’re a teenager just
getting used to their rapidly growing bodies, rather then saying “He is
good practice exercise for this is to go to the mall, park, baseball
game...wherever there are lots of people doing lots of random things.
Pick two or three and write exactly
what they are doing. How they are doing it. How many steps it took the
really tall man to get from his truck to the porta-potty. How hard the
short woman had to strain to lift her child up to the monkey bars. How
the old woman with the cane braced herself against the car to load her
groceries into the back seat. One bag at a time.
don’t need to know that he was a 45 year old man with salt and pepper
hair, blue eyes and a beer gut. That can come out later. When you show
him at home in front of his tv, drinking a 6-pack.
readers are pretty smart. And they have imagination. It’s far more
important for the reader to understand how a character will react in a
situation, then to know how their hair is going to look.
here’s your assignment class! Take the following description and change
it, any way you want (just keep the essence the same), using tips I
couldn’t believe it. 42 years old. Oh well. At least his hair wasn’t
too grey. He turned away from the bathroom mirror, feeling for his thick
glasses. Shambling out to his lounger, he eased his massive body into
the broken springs and opened a fresh bag of chips. Maybe this year he
would lose the weight.”