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How do you write good character description

  1. Integrate Character Description with Action

It's common for developing writers to resort to 'laundry list' descriptions, cataloguing a character's physical attributes in a straightforward list. For example:

'She had green eyes, long, tawny hair, a scruffy tracksuit stained from lunch, and a loud laugh.'

While this isn't necessarily poor description, its repetitiveness can pull readers out of the story. Instead, weave descriptions into actions to make them feel more natural and engaging. Consider this revision:

Glancing up as she dusted crumbs from her tracksuit, she caught my gaze across the university cafeteria. It was then I noticed her green eyes, surprisingly piercing.

This approach not only embeds the description within the narrative but also offers insights into the narrator's perspective, adding depth to both characters involved.

  1. Employ Figurative Language

Using similes and metaphors can vividly enhance your descriptions. A simile compares qualities ('like' or 'as though'), and a metaphor asserts that one thing embodies another. Examples include:

His dazed look made him appear perpetually half-sedated. Her tightly pursed lips resembled a door, ready to slam shut at the slightest provocation. Such techniques not only paint a clearer picture but also enrich the text with deeper meaning, revealing more about the characters' natures.

  1. Convey Personality Through Physical Details

Rather than simply describing hair or eye colour, use physical details to hint at deeper personality traits. For example, an unconventional hairstyle might suggest a creative or rebellious personality. Consider this narrative:

Her botched peroxide job left her hair in stark yellow spikes, mirroring her inner turmoil and fiery temperament. Her anxious, tightly knotted face was a testament to her inner strife.

This type of description offers more than just a visual; it provides a glimpse into the character's emotional or mental state, enhancing the reader's understanding and engagement.

  1. Combine Physical Descriptions with Movement and Gesture

Character descriptions that include physical movement or gestures can reveal more than static appearances. For example:

Despite her elegant beauty, her constant eye-rolling lent her a sullen air, obscuring her attractiveness. An elderly woman, sprightly rising from her restaurant seat to stride confidently across the room, might surprise readers, revealing her vibrant past as a ballet dancer. These descriptions suggest that there’s often more to a character than meets the eye, encouraging readers to consider the underlying stories.

  1. Use Description to Reveal the Observer

Character descriptions can also reflect the personality and biases of the narrator. For example:

Charles Dickens’ 'Great Expectations' describes Mrs Joe, revealing not only her tough persona but also Pip’s subtle humour and mature reflection on his past. In Margaret Atwood's 'The Blind Assassin', Iris’s observation of a waitress’s interaction with her father subtly hints at her growing understanding of adult complexities. These descriptions provide dual insights, offering clues about the character being described and the one doing the describing, enriching the narrative layering.

Each of these tips encourages writers to think about character description as an integral and dynamic part of storytelling, enhancing both the depth and the engagement of their narratives.

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