Sunday, January 27, 2019

5 Reasons Not to Describe Your Character in a Mirror

Still more articles on "rules" of writing, and more reasons to break these so-called "rules."  And another list of five "rules" 🙂 This one is from Helping Writers Become Authors:

Video Transcript:

Today, I want to discuss a simple but important “don’t” of how to describe your character. And that’s simply this: Don’t describe your character by having him look at himself in a mirror. On the surface, this may seem like a great way to give your narrating character a reason to describe himself, while staying in POV. But it’s really not, and here are five good reasons why:
1. More often than not, it’s going to make your character sound really self-obsessed. How many of us get up in the morning, look into the mirror, and take note of our hair and eye color, much less study every minute feature?
2. Frankly, this kind of character description is boring. Most readers simply do not care that your protagonist has ivory skin, big blue eyes, and gobs of silky black hair. They’re going to appreciate a few physical details, but what they really care about is the character’s personality.
3. The reason it’s boring is that it’s often nothing more than an info dump. Usually, it ends up as a grocery list of descriptors that fails to add any kind characterization or plot advancement.
4. It’s contrived. To anybody who’s got his thinking cap on, it’s going to pretty obvious that the only reason the character is looking in the mirror and describing herself is so that you, the author, will have an excuse to spout off this misplaced description.
5. Finally, even if some of your readers fail to notice this clumsy technique, you can bet you’re going to magnificently annoy any and all fellow authors who happen to be reading your book—because they will notice.
This seems to go with what I quoted in this post
Avoid the Mirror Trick
It seems like an easy answer to simply have the character look in a mirror and describe what they see, but it’s been done so many times (and done badly) that agents and readers cringe when they see it. If the novel happens to start this way, it’s likely a kiss of death unless there's a unique twist to it. 
Avoid the “Let Me Introduce Myself” Cliché 
Another common cliché is having the character introduce themselves and describe what they look like. For example, “I’m your average gal, five foot four, brown hair, blue eyes” or “I’m nothing special, six foot, black cropped hair and brown almond eyes.” This was quite popular a while back, but these days, it usually comes across feeling stale.

And the line from my story  I quoted in that same post:
... I hate the way I look. Curly dark hair, dull-looking brown eyes and teeth sticking out in all directions…an overbite. It should come as no surprise that my dentist said I need braces. ...

I did not say in my story that he was looking in a mirror, rather I am trying to imply that he is describing himself from what he knows, and doesn't need a mirror to do it. In my previous post, I said how the character's teeth are important to the story so it was necessary to mention them. I hate to be repetitive, but rules are meant to be broken.

At the end of the post, the blogger asks:

Tell me your opinion: How much character description do you like to include in stories?

I would say as much as necessary without getting boring and sounding like a so-clled "info dump." Again, the teeth are important to the story, so it is necessary to include them in the description.


Elephant's Child said...

If the information is relevant - include it. If it isn't integral to the story, ditch it. And mostly I don't care. I am much more interested in what the character does than how they look.

Sandra Cox said...

I got dinged on the 'mirror' when I first started writing.