Found this article on io9.com today about character descriptions from classic books. It made me think about the subject of description and how important it is to a story. For some, what makes a great story is the epic nature of the plot, how many places and people it touches and how universe shaking its results. For others it’s about the uniqueness of the setting or some other factor. But I think for all the characters are what really pull us in and keep us there. If we didn’t love the people involved, we wouldn’t care about those other things.
So, hand in hand with meaningful characters are great character descriptions. We have to be able to see them, to envision them, and more than that, to know them and to gain some measure of understanding about them. Description is vital to that process.
But how much description is necessary? Do we need to know everything, from the exact shade of his hair to the oddly shaped freckle on his left wrist? Do we need to know every facet of his personality and every defining moment throughout his childhood? Well, as a reader, no. As an author, maybe. What the reader needs to know is enough to give us an idea of why the character does what he does. That can come slowly – nothing says it all needs to be spelled out the moment he walks through the door. As the author, it’s up to you to know these things, and to know when to let us in on it.
It all starts, though, with that moment we meet the character. Take a look at the article and sample some of the great character descriptions we’ve seen in other books, then see what you can do with yours.