12 Sep

Character Description

Character Description Can Reveal Inner and Outer Characteristics

I think that Sol Stein’s book, Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and StrategiesStein on Writing , has one of the best sections on character descriptions. If you read his book, Stein–like every other fiction teacher–mentions five ways to characterize (physical attributes, clothing, psychological mannerisms, actions, dialogue). But consider this description from his book:

“She always stood sideways so people could see how thin she was.”

What I like about here is the way the description does double duty, letting the reader know something about the internal characteristics of the character–the attitudes of the character, at the same time we learn how skinny she is.

Here’s another from Stein:

“She bombarded them with questions nonstop as if their answers were irrelevant.”

I find this one less effective. We do know internal characteristics: the woman is self-centered and arrogant. However, I think it would have been more effective if some physical dimension of her voice had been included, too.

With a cigarette-hoarse voice, she bombarded them with questions nonstop as if their answers were irrelevant.

Try to make your character descriptions do the double duty of characterizing both internal and external characteristics in an economy of words.

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