Bookish Musings: Character Description—Love It, or Hate It?

 
 

I love character description! No really, give me all the character description, and I will eat it up. I know some people don’t like too much of it, but I love getting to see what every new character I meet looks like. So I thought it’d make a good post to explain why I love it so much, and then you all can tell me your thoughts on the topic!

 

 

What someone looks like is a part of who they are

I don’t mean we should judge people based on what they look like or that we are defined by how we look, but rather that what we look like is usually important to us. If it wasn’t, no one would ever dye their hair, or get haircuts and styles, or wear makeup, or pick out clothes they like, or get piercings and tattoos, etc. And we sometimes feel more of a connection with people when we can associate a face or a hair style or a clothing style or something to their name. I like feeling connected to characters and getting to know them a bit through what they look like.

 

I just find it fun and interesting to know what characters look like

There are so many different ways a person can look! (What color is their hair? How long is it? What style is it in? What color are their eyes? Are they big and bright? Do they have bags under them? Do they sparkle? Do they have freckles? Birthmarks? Moles? Piercings? Tattoos? Scars? Are their teeth white and perfectly straight? Are they yellowed from smoking or drinking coffee? Are they adorably crooked? Do they have a snaggletooth? Does their smile curve more on one side? Do they have dimples? A bent nose? Maybe an upturned nose? Soft, rounded facial features? Sharp, angular facial features? Do they look feminine? Masculine? Androgynous? Do they have a cleft chin? A strong jaw? Stubble? Ears that stick out? Are they skinny? Thin and lean? Fat? Curvy? Super muscular? More muscular in one part of their body? Short? Tall? Somewhere in between? How do they dress? In bright colors? In all black? In t-shirts and jeans? In suits and ties? In sundresses? In a simple, practical style? In band t-shirts? In lots of jewelry and accessories? Do they slouch? Do they stand super straight?) I want to know everything—or however much applies—for the main characters at least because each extra detail is fascinating and creates a more unique, real-feeling character.

 

What someone looks like can sometimes tell you something about them

I don’t condone making assumptions, but, for example, if someone is muscular, it means they either work out a lot or play a sport or have a job/hobby that requires lots of manual labor. For another example, bags under someone’s eyes is usually a sign that they don’t get much sleep. As humans, I believe it is in our nature to make assumptions to an extent based on what we see (I mean, there’s a reason we don’t wear pajamas to job interviews), so the way a person dresses/looks/carries themselves can give off a certain vibe, even if that vibe is incorrect. Authors can even use common expectations to surprise the reader or to show that stereotypes are often wrong.

 

How a character sees other characters can also tell you something

If there are multiple POVs in a novel, it can be interesting the different things each character notices about others and how they view them.

 

I have a hard time picturing characters without a description

I guess this is the most important one on the list. I like to picture everything as much as possible in my head while I read. I take my time reading. I don’t speed read. I rarely skim. And I do picture more than just a blob when it comes to characters. (I’m not judging anyone who does any of those things though, you can read in whatever way makes you happy!) But I need description if I’m going to picture things well. The less description I have, the more generic or blobby the characters end up looking in my mind. And sometimes, if I’m not even told hair color, the character’s hair will constantly change color in my head because I’m trying not to commit to anything until I know for sure, and that just ends up distracting me.

 

But There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Do It

I don’t want paragraphs of description for every single character in a book. Even for the main character, I don’t need a paragraph description of the exact size and shape of their nostrils. But the important things, a general description, anything that stands out or makes them somewhat unique, those are the things I want to know. A good description can give you a feel for who they are and the vibe they give off in addition to what they look like. And there are ways to make the description flow smoothly with the story, vs. ways that take you out of the story (e.g. looking in a mirror and describing themselves). But when it’s done right, I do love getting as much detail as possible because it helps me picture characters more clearly and get to know them even better!

 
 
 

Talk to me!

How do you feel about character description?
Do you picture characters in your head, or do you stick to vague blobs?

 

Like this post? Follow me for more!

Bloglovin   |   WordPress   |   Feedly   |   Twitter   |   Goodreads   |   Pinterest   |   Tumblr

 

Like this post? Follow me for more!

Bloglovin WP Reader Feedly RSS

 
 
 
 
 

Let's Be Friends

 
 

Your Thoughts

 

60 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Character Description—Love It, or Hate It?

I'd love if you'd share your thoughts, too!

 

Reading your comments makes me a very happy blogger!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
  1. Greg

    I think I picture characters in my head as more than blobs, usually. Depending of course on how they’re described, or if they are. I think sometimes too I conjure up my own mental image in spite of the given description, for whatever reason- i know I’ve definitely done that. Funny how the mind interprets a story/ characters! I like your point too about how an author can use common expectations to challenge or surprise a reader- great point!

    So yeah I definitely like good character descriptions. I don’t need to know everything but a few little details can certainly help!

    Greg recently posted: Menagerie

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol yeah, some people apparently just go with their own idea regardless of how the character is described. But I like to try and envision things how the author wanted them to be. But it is interesting the way the mind interprets things!

      A few good details can make all the difference!

  2. jennrenee

    I also have a hard time picturing a character without a description. What I like about the character descriptions, is like you said it says a lot about the person describing them. How they feel what they see. It helps me know the character so much better.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It can definitely be interesting to see not only what a character looks like, but also how they appear to *another* character, what types of things that character notices!

  3. Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy

    I love hearing about what characters look like, but it needs to be subtle and not a long list, like you said. I’ve read plenty of books where the author doesn’t give you any information and it’s very frustrating not to have an idea of the character’s appearance.

  4. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    I love it, especially when it goes beyond hair/eye/skin color. If there’s no description, I just picture a mannequin. Or a very generic human. I love knowing what makes a character unique. They feel more real that way.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes! With just hair and eye color, a lot of characters in my head end up looking kind of generic and similar. I swear like half my favorites look the same, haha. But the ones with more description or some uniqueness, those look different.

  5. Amanda Kay Meuwissen

    Thank you for this, I am right there with you!

    When I was working as an editor for my original indie publisher, I had an author who did not give character descriptions AT ALL, because he thought that was the reader’s job. I was appalled, especially since it fundamentally changed large aspects of how I saw his characters. Like he called his main characters dark elves, so my brain supplied black skin and white hair to go with the stereotype of that fantasy concept, but he MEANT for them to be pale skinned with black hair. Well you can’t MEAN for anything if you don’t include it, readers won’t supply what you want or expect just because you think they should, they need some direction.

    As a reader myself, I want descriptions, sure not TOO much, but I love to paint a clear picture in my mind. I know some people who tend to put in actors for characters, especially if there is a movie version, but I can form a completely new picture based on how a writer describes someone. I saw the first Harry Potter before I read the books, but my image of the characters is nothing like any of the actors.

    Lovely blog as always! As a reader and writer, give me all the descriptions, please!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Glad you agree!

      I’ve noticed it definitely differs a lot from author to author. It also differs from reader to reader though, so I guess there is no right way to do it. But yeah, if you don’t give a description, you can’t expect readers to get it right! Especially if your idea goes completely against the norm, as with the dark elves!

      Ah, see, I usually can’t form a new picture once I’ve seen a movie for a book. Your brain is more talented than mine, haha.

      Thank you!

  6. Roberta R.

    Quote: “I don’t need a paragraph description of the exact size and shape of their nostrils.”
    LOL, that one made me laugh, and your comment about eye bags too. No one has got eye bags in books! Book characters are perfect! 😂

    I particularly agree about needing a mental image of the characters…though once I’m engrossed in the story, I don’t really picture them in my head anymore (funny, isn’t it?).

    Also, quote: “it can be interesting the different things each character notices about others and how they view them.”
    I had never thought of it before, but it’s so true! and it says a lot about the observer as well.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol let’s petition for more characters to have eye bags :-P

      Huh, that’s interesting that you stop really picturing them once you’re engrossed!

      It really can say a lot about the observer, and be especially interesting w/ multiple POVs, if the author does it well!

  7. Angela

    I like getting descriptions of what the characters look like, as long as it feels organic and not just thrown in. I’ll usually get a picture in my head of what a character looks like, but it’s generic, and then when I finally get some description, sometimes it’ll be completely different from what I expected! For example, I was reading a book and was convinced the male character was this older, balding man. Then, like halfway through the book, he is described as 30ish and really good-looking. Totally changed my perspective of him and his role in the book!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s frustrating to me though, when the author waits until halfway into the book to give description. If I’ve already got my own picture, it’s too hard to change it!

  8. Mikky @ Nocturnal Predators Reviews

    Maybe it’s because I’m impatient, but I can’t stand long-winded descriptions with metaphors thrown in at random in books as it is. If that’s what I have to stand for character descriptions you can count me out of that book. What I enjoy in books are general descriptions that let my mind wander and fill in the blanks for certain aspects. That applies to characters, rooms, certain character powers when I’m reading UF or PNR. The only exception to that rule is when I’m reading something based heavily on fantasy but even then it can get overdone in my opinion. The author just needs to have a balance to everything.

    Mikky @ Nocturnal Predators Reviews recently posted: Top Ten Tuesday: Five Bookish Habits I Want To Break

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol I’m actually surprised you’re the first one to comment with this opinion. I love character description, but I have less patience with rooms and settings, unless there’s a reason, like it really tells me something about the character or something.

  9. Rebeccah @ The Pixie ChroniclesRe

    Yes! I absolutely agree with this! I actually prefer it when we get a quick, short paragraph of description when we meet a new character if it’s written in an interesting way. I can’t stand it when I don’t know what a character looks like since I really prefer having a visual in my head and it bothers me when some authors seem to think I should fill in all the blanks for them. I know it’s an artistic choice, but it just reads as lazy not to give me some very basics, or even if it’s not something super specific, I still want something that gives me the “feel” of a character, you know?

    Rebeccah @ The Pixie ChroniclesRe recently posted: 5 Fairytales that need to be Retold

  10. Gretchen Vega

    Great post! I love being able to mentally picture a character and the novel from top to bottom. I think whether or not I’m able to do that, definitely makes or breaks a book for me personally. If I csnt I’m just not as invested in the story itself.

  11. ShootingStarsMag

    I tend to have a vague picture of the characters in my head, so I like some description. I don’t need too much though as I’m not someone to ever have a FULL picture of what someone looks like when I read the book. This is why when books become movies, I don’t ever think “that’s not how I pictured them!” because I don’t picture them with really specific details, if that makes sense? As long as the main things are there, I’m good. LOL For example…I don’t tend to picture Harry Potter with glasses. I KNOW he has them, but I don’t know, my brain just doesn’t conjure them up when I see him. hah

    -Lauren

    ShootingStarsMag recently posted: Weirdest Place You’ve Bought a Book

    1. Kristen Burns

      See, I can get a much more full picture if I’m given enough description. But with little description, it ends up looking generic. I get what you mean about the movies, I’m just not like that lol. I hate movie adaptations because they make me lose the picture in my head, and I don’t want to lose the picture!

  12. Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer

    I do fine either way, although I do enjoy some description. Now if the story is about a ginger-haired hero and the cover sports a blue-eyed blonde that makes me crazy. But then again, I sometimes change the way they look in my head.

  13. Stephanie Jane

    I like lots of description of everything – characters, landscapes, room decor – so I can picture exactly what is going on and where. You are absolutely right that there’s good and bad ways of imparting the information. Having someone habitually stoop for doorways gives me a better way to picture that they are tall than telling me their exact measurement.
    I hate when book covers don’t match the text though. My copy of Still Alice had Julianne Moore on the cover (from the film) and it took me ages to reconcile that image with the short, curly-haired protagonist in the text. For the first few chapters I was waiting for the straight-haired redhead to appear and hadn’t realised the two were the same Alice!

    Stephanie Jane recently posted: The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

    1. Kristen Burns

      See, for me, I prefer minimal landscape description, just enough to give me a feel for it, and room description isn’t usually necessary to me unless there’s something unique about it or it tells me something about the character living there. But it’s interesting to see all the different opinions of what types and how much description we all like! Def good and bad ways of doing description though. The stooping is a great example of how description can be included in subtle ways.

      That’s so frustrating when the book covers don’t match the characters!

  14. Daniela Ark

    yes yes yes to all this wifey!

    There may be some judging involved [because we are human and it’s part of our nature] but yes how we look like and how others look like plays an important part in human relationships! And picturing a character in your mind definitely creates a connection. And definitely there are good and bad ways to manage it in books. One of the reason I loved reading Broody so much was because it made fun of cliche, repetitive and overdone characters descriptions :)

    Great Post

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, maybe we aren’t supposed to judge, but we do make some assumptions based on looks, and once we know someone, we might not have those assumptions anymore, but how they look is still a part of them. But there are definitely wrong and right ways to do description!

  15. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    I definitely need some character description. I find it so bizarre when it’s not provided. I mean, not only do I need someone to picture but, as you said, someone’s appearance can say a lot about them. Not from a judgey standpoint but just in how they choose to present themselves. That being said, I also don’t need an author to harp on certain characteristics. Don’t tell me every five pages that (s)he has aquamarine eyes or high cheekbones or whatever it is that everyone is supposed to notice. I get it already – no need to hit me over the head with it.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books recently posted: WWW Wednesday #7 | May 23, 2018

    1. Kristen Burns

      Right?! And you’d think the author would want us to picture the characters correctly, the way they envisioned! Or at least something close. Exactly, it’s not always about being judgmental. Appearances really can us things. But oh gosh, yeah, I don’t need the same single characteristic repeated 27,000 times.

  16. Chloe @ Book Dragons

    Aaaah character descriptions, I do love a good description, I like being able to picture them, even if it’s not a super detailed I can still picture the character as more than a blob. Have you ever had it where even though you know what a character is described to look like, you picture them differently? I for some reason with TVA and Bloodlines by Richelle Mead pictured Adrian as blonde…he wasn’t he was a brunette and every time it got mentioned I’d get stunned for a moment remember he was a brunette…then within a few minutes he was blonde in my head again xD it’s the only time so far that’s happened to me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Hmmm. I don’t think that happens to me unless a) I make a mistake and/or forget the description I was given and therefore end up picturing wrong, or b) the author waits too long to give the description and I’ve already settled on my own by then. But idk, maybe I have had a similar issue where I just kind of keep forgetting and so it surprises me every time the correct one comes up lol.

  17. Cristina @ Girl in the Pages

    I like character descriptions and I like knowing them EARLY. I feel like I start picturing characters super fast and if it takes a while for the author to mention, say, their hair color, it might already be too late and there’s no way I can shift the mental image I’ve already created of the character. I find this is also essential for books that turn into movies too- I try to read the book first so I can have my own vision of the character, because I know if I see the movie first there’s no way I can get the actor’s image out of my head.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes, I want them asap! If not, I either settle into my own picture and get annoyed when I have to try and change it (or it’ll be too late to change it), or I purposely try not to settle on anything and that gets frustrating too. And yep, once I see a movie for a book, I envision that actor!

  18. Tizzy

    I agree with you about a physical description being helpful to understanding a character better. I don’t like to read long paragraphs of description though, I prefer that it is just kind of casually woven into the action so that you can put the picture of them together piece by piece. For example, “She ran down the street, her wispy blonde hair flying wildly around her”, then later, “As she reached for the knife handle, her sleeve slipped up slightly to reveal a strange symbol tattooed across her wrist”, and so on.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It really is helpful. I don’t even mind whole paragraphs if they’re well-written and interesting. But I also get what you’re saying, and that can work well too!

  19. Pingback: Weekly Wrap Up #34 – Book Dragons

  20. Lola

    I also like to know what a character looks like. i don’t mind having some room to fill in details myself, but in general I like character descriptions and I like details, as long as it isn’t paragraphs long or something. Same goes with settings, I like when I get enough description and explanation so i can visualize things better. And preferable I want character descriptions as early as possible in the book as my imagination fills things in and it’s almost impossible to change details later if I already have an image in my head.

    And good point that how someone look is part of their identity and personality in some way. It also makes a character feel unique and more real often as well. It can be fun to figure things out about a person based on how they look or be surprised when things aren’t like you expected. And indeed the point of view from the one who describes other character also says something about them as well and can tell you something about the person’s whose point of view you get, like what details they notice or what’s important to them or what they find attractive in someone else.

    It depends a bit on the book and the characters, sometimes I have a clear image of a character and other times less so or only a few features. But I like to form a good image in my mind of characters, although it can be hard sometimes. And often i fill in details myself if they aren’t there or they just stay a generic blob or more of a feel than an actual image. I recently had a book where I based my image of a character from how he looked on the cover and then later in the book we learned in the book he was (partly) native American and had black hair, but on the cover he has short hair and looks blond-ish. So my image was all wrong and I kept trying to form the right image in my head, but it sort of kept changing and I couldn’t get the right image in my head as the cover image was already there and formed my image before we got more details of how he looked.

    So yeah I definitely think character descriptions are important and I like to know how a character looks like, but indeed paragraphs of descriptions aren’t necessary either, but I do want to know the most important details and as soon as possible in the book preferably.

    Lola recently posted: Sunday Post #284

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes! Sometimes I don’t even mind the paragraphs long descriptions if it’s just for one character or something. Settings are iffy for me. I’m not usually as interested in setting descriptions. But yes, I want the character descriptions early or else I get frustrated and keep trying not to settle on anything, or I picture them only to find out I was wrong and then have to try and change it.

      I do think getting details about a character’s looks can make them feel more real. And the POV thing can definitely be interesting.

      Yeah, I’m the same. Some characters, I can picture so clearly. Others, not so much. Idk why. Maybe cuz certain characters were just given better description or have more uniqueness to their looks. But yeah, sometimes I’ll switch if I find out I’m wrong. Other times I’m just like, “Nope, this is Book 2 in a series, it’s too late in the game to switch now” lol.

  21. Sam@WLABB

    I do like when characters are described, for exactly the reason you mentioned – it helps me visualize them. However, I like them to be a little vague, because it lets me have a little part of the visualization process.

    I have often been disappointed by screen adaptations of books, because they don’t match the picture in my head.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I feel like there’s always a bit of vagueness regardless, so I don’t mind lots of detail :-) But yes! I don’t even watch movie adaptations because it ruins the pictures I have in my head!

  22. Olivia Roach

    I love character descriptions because I like to know what a character looks like. It helps with the imagination, but you really don’t need to linger on the description for too long. In about two or three lines you can get it all done! And it doesn’t have to be all dumped in at once. You can weave subtle descriptions into the story throughout. That’s what I like best! I think Maggie Stiefvater does it well. If the author doesn’t continuously leave clues though, I forget what they’re supposed to look like and my imagination fills in gaps based on their personality. Then I see fan art and know I got it all wrong xD

    Olivia Roach recently posted: Book Haul: The Bargain Edition

    1. Kristen Burns

      It really does help. And yes, there are definitely ways to weave in extra description throughout the story! But hey, even if your idea looks different from the fan art, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, just your version :-)

  23. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I totally get it, I do love a good character description so I can solidly visual the character in my head. I don’t need it be too detailed, and I don’t want it all in one go, but if I can’t visualise a character I don’t like having to fill in the blanks. I don’t want the description to be to be too generic because it feels lazy if the author hasn’t visualised the character how am I meant to, you know? I basically agree with you on everything, get it right and I’ll feel like these characters are real and get it wrong and I’ll have little cardboard cut outs in my head and will tend to blur people together.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, I don’t want to have to completely guess at the big things, like skin and hair and eye color. But if I start with that, and my image looks kind of generic, I can tweak it a bit to get more defined if I get more info as I go. But yeah, unfortunately I feel like half the characters I read about look the same in my head lol.

  24. Dani

    I like to anchor a character’s look provided by the author. I need some base description to carry the character around in my head. How an author describes his character can give us a hint as to the story and what he thinks the character is capable of. Many want us to make assumptions. Its hard to concentrate on reading when I have no idea what the characters look like. Great discussion!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Anchor, that’s a good word because it does help anchor the character in my mind, help me remember them and sink into their story. And yes, the description can definitely hint at more! And I too find it harder to concentrate when idk what the character looks like. Thanks!

  25. Nicci @ Sunny Buzzy Books

    I agree. I like character descriptions.
    I hate it when the character description changes though. Like, at the beginning of the book he has beautiful blue eyes then later in the book they’re green, then later they’re back to blue again. That tells me the author doesn’t have a firm handle on what the character looks like in his/her head and it roasts my nuts.

    Nicci @ Sunny Buzzy Books recently posted: Blitz: Part-Time Lover by Lauren Blakely

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yikes, idk if I’ve read a book where the description changed, but that would be so frustrating! Ahahaha “roasts my nuts” is my new favorite phrase XD

  26. Pingback: May’s Recap and June’s goals || Or the story of “why am I failing at this?” – The Reader in the Attic