Yes, I Like Character Descriptions!

Reaction post to Cait Grace’s question-raising post “Do You Even Like Character Descriptions?” over at Paper Fury (which, FYI, is my very favorite book blog and is hilarious and insightful).

Cait has a tendency to bring up interesting bookish topics, and I was writing out a comment there in response to this one, but decided to turn it into a post of my own, because I had no idea I had so many thoughts or thought so strongly on this topic! o.o (I’ve actually done this before with one of her posts…) Huzzah for bookish discussion starters! (Thanks, Cait! šŸ˜€ )

(This is in no way to bash her post or opinion, or anything! She raised some fabulous points, and I would just like to share some ramblings of my own on the topic, because this book blog is exactly for things like this when I would randomly like to talk about bookish things on a Saturday morning. šŸ™‚ )

So go read her post first. Done? Okay. Here we go…


Okay, so here is a case where I disagree. I want ALL the descriptions!! I’ve gotten SO frustrated with books these days where people DO think less is more and are afraid of “telling” and actually bothering to EXPLAIN what their characters look like to us poor readers, and have been told not to infodump. So they tell us nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. For like paaaages. And then suddenly they start to drop little hints… and then you realize you’ve been imagining the characters ENTIRELY WRONG. And you have to try to re-imagine them but… nope. It doesn’t work. THIS DRIVES ME INSANE.

And then you spend the rest of the book trying (unsuccessfully) to twist your already fully-created mental image of the character into the version the author is TELLING you (too late) that they look like. Even if you do eventually manage to see it right, it’s exhausting, and it’s not nice when it takes a ton of effort just to see what the author says. That’s not how books are supposed to be.

Honestly, this happened with me with Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, which I’m going to use as en example. Don’t get me wrong. I ADORED that book (except for the creepiness being a bit much for this squeamish reader…). But honestly I was so annoyed that it didn’t come right out and describe the characters and have done with it right at the beginning so that we could move on. Like, is it so hard to just say “Kaz was seventeen and tall and thin as a musket and had gorgeous raven-black hair and an angular face and” etc. going on about his fabulous coat and black eyes and black gloves and his raven cane. Like, is that so hard??

Fabulous authors can pull these things off if they want to, if they’re not afraid of what they’ve been “told” to do… And there are some amazing and gorgeous descriptions in Six of Crows, too! So it’s not like there’s none… There just could have been enough to not leave me confused…

I’ll be honest, it took me like CHAPTERS to even begin to get the correct mental image of Kaz and the rest. Because Kaz had a cane and a raspy voice? At first, I thought he was like fifty or sixty. DON’T JUDGE. I DID. Like… an old man. And then something else happened (I think it mentioned his hair being black?) and I was like ohhh maybe he’s like thirty? AND THEN EVENTUALLY IT COMES OUT AND SAYS OH BY THE WAY HE’S SEVENTEEN. And I’m like ohhhhhhhhhhhhh. Okay. He’s three years younger than me and he’s awesome and handsome and cool AND IT TOOK ME LIKE A CHAPTER OR THREE TO KNOW THIS. Ugh.

It’s partly my fault, because I should have known that it’s YA and hence he had to be 18 years or younger? But for those not aware of that thing OUTSIDE OF THE BOOK I MIGHT ADD, it’s just tragic to not even know what the character looks like.

I mean, giving little tidbits at a time instead of just outright saying things can be a good mode of suspense? I’m okay with that for most things in a book. But not what things LOOK like. We shouldn’t be in suspense over things that if we were actually THERE, we would SEE with our eyes!

Because books are not like movies. We cannot SEE the things unless the author TELLS us or IMPLIES to us.

I think authors have a responsibility to tell the reader things!! Leaving us in the dark is mean at worse, or neglectful at best… We authors can see the entire story in our head, but the reader only gets as much of it as we happen to write. (I remember I once sent my first NaNo story to someone to beta read, and at one point I said the characters ran to the corner. The reader wrote back and said “the corner of what?” Because I had entirely neglected to describe the fact that they were in this awesome broken down tower thing!! I saw it all in my head, and forgot to mention it.)

So yes, getting back to Six of Crows: because I was clueless and it didn’t occur to me that they would all be kids because it was YA, I literally did not realize, for like a chapter or three, that Kaz and all of his gang were young. I literally thought that they were just grown up people! Like… a regular gang! And then I figured it out and was like “ohhhhh. That’s so much cooler that they’re young!” This could have been avoided with a simple sentence or even word about it.

But like I’m saying, this happens with lots of books these days, not just Six of Crows, I’m just using it as an example (and I love the book!! I just… wish more things had been outright stated). Authors seem afraid of telling the reader things. And this bothers me.

When there’s a movie, you can imagine the characters because you SEE the faces and the whole person and what they look like. So that’s easy. But in a book, it’s just words, and words are powerful but they have to be the right ones. And I do just imagine characters a certain way unless it’s outright stated, so I’d like to have that, please and thank you… And I think this is largely why people do use over the top descriptions, like extravagant eye colors… I’m guilty of it myself. šŸ˜› People can understand things like colors, but you can’t really fully describe a FACE. We’re drawn to things like eyes and hair of particular color/kinds because we can easily grasp what those look like.

Because of the imagination thing, building things out of words, that is why things ARE so open to interpretation, which is actually a wonderful thing about books, because readers can each have their own individual versions in their head, and that’s what makes it unique!

But unless there are specific things to pin these descriptions around (like vague age, hair color, curly hair, eye color, etc., even if they ARE unrealistic) then all the imaginations are going to vary so differently, and like Cait said, they are really good indications of the characters!

Like, getting away from faces, the way characters dress is a HUGE indication of their personality! Even just a choice mention of that particular red scarf with the sparkles, or that dark blue fedora, or that black leather jacket (yes, I know some people say it’s a cliche but I still love it and will not apologize).

And I’m not saying that there should be necessarily ALWAYS mounds of description every time a character comes in… I’m aware that some people don’t like lots (personally, I don’t mind). I’m just saying, give us the basics fairly soon after we meet them so that we can imagine them somewhat correctly! And yes, something visual that sets them aside as a quirk so that we remember them out of the hordes of other characters we read. People REMEMBER Holmes’ hat, Kaz’s crow-headed cane, Howl’s blue-and-silver suit, Katniss’s braid, and various unique eye- or hair-coloring etc., which, call it unrealistic if you will, but does a marvelous job of setting characters aside in your mind.

This is getting rather long and rambly and I feel like I had other things to say, but there you go. My bookish rambles of the day.

Long story short: I like description in books, particularly for characters, and I like it early enough to do some good. šŸ™‚

19 thoughts on “Yes, I Like Character Descriptions!

  1. Yes! I totally agree with you! Yes, I do love knowing what characters look like. I prefer the sprinkling of facts method myself. šŸ™‚
    AND YES I THOUGHT THE SAME THING ABOUT KAZ. I was reading along and then BAM. He’s actually *seventeen*. O_o And the fact that he was younger totally changed my opinion about him, possibly even the whole story! In a good way! šŸ˜€
    Nice post! ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha, fair enough! It’s very interesting to read your side of this. XD I LOVE IT. Although I have to admit that this “We cannot SEE the things unless the author TELLS us or IMPLIES to us.” doesn’t ring true for me though! šŸ˜› I mean, I believe readers have an imagination. I grew up reading Narnia and apart from telling us the world was covered in snow, there was literally NO DESCRIPTION. Yet, my imagination 100% filled it out and it was my favourite fantasy world as I was little. And I just grew up continuing to do that. So I think it’s fair to say: readers have imaginations, and author’s don’t have to spoon feed because we will fill in some blanks. Obviously that would vary from reader to reader, right? Because some of us have better imaginations than others? But yeah. XDXD I honestly think it is part of the readers job to imagine when it comes to a book.

    BUT ANYWAY. I REALLY LIKED YOUR PERSPECTIVE, DON’T GET ME WRONG!! hehe. And I’m laughing over your Kaz story. xD I didn’t even realise they weren’t described until you pointed it out. šŸ˜› And it is nice to know some descriptions, too, because faceless blobs can be less than fun. šŸ˜‰

    Thanks for linking back to my discussion and everything. YAY FOR BOOKISH CONVERSATION!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, so you’re totally right, and I should have specified that I meant specifically CHARACTERS. XD Sorry, my bad… I wasn’t specific enough. It’s true that we can fill in stuff like settings pretty well, but characters need some specifics, in my opinion. šŸ˜› And yes, it is totally part of our job to imagine! But not EVERYTHING… šŸ˜‰

      Haha, yes, my Kaz story. XD

      Yay! Thanks for starting it! Fun bookish conversations, huzzah! šŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

      • OMG I DIDN’T REALISE THIS WAS YOUR NEW BLOG. *facepalm* But omg I really enjoyed your POV on this, just so you know…in case that comment came across too harsh or anything?! šŸ˜›

        Liked by 1 person

        • Haha, sorry! XD That’s hilarious. šŸ˜› I’m so incognito… šŸ˜€
          And no, you weren’t TOO harsh or anything! šŸ˜‰ You are so sweet to double-check on that though! *huggles* ^_^ You da best, Cait! ā¤


  3. I agree, it’s something that people have to learn to balance like anything else in writing, dialogue to description for example. I think it’s really hard to find middle ground. On a different note isn’t Kaz a marvelous little devil.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. Personally I’m not big on descriptions of either people or places. I’m more into dialogue and actions to get a sense of character but I think it depends on the reader. It’s similar to the idea that people learn in different ways, some read, some listen and some have to do. On the Six of Crows point, I actually wondered if Leigh left the age thing out to start with on purpose. I think she wanted the reader to judge them as older before finding out the truth but just a theory.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am a reader like you, who loves description (of any kind, in fact)! I can totally see why some readers don’t, but I’m not one of them. šŸ™‚ I think describing character appearance is a way of capturing life and reality. If you experience fiction like you experience life, fictional people will have a definite, real appearance, just like real people will have a definite, real appearance when you meet them. They’ll have something that stands out, something that speaks of their personality, or of what life is like for them (like Cait’s perfect example of long hair! My solution for long hair is always keeping it corralled in a ponytail, braid, or bun, btw šŸ˜€ ). And we usually notice that right away, so descriptions near their introduction are best. Cait’s pros and cons list was great, and really, I think it all boils down to personal preference. But I’m with you on your side of the opinion! Great thoughts, my dear!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay! Description is fun. šŸ™‚ And yes, that’s so true it’s the first thing we see! (Haha on the hair thing! šŸ˜€ I can generally keep mine under control but my sister always keeps it braided to keep it tame. ;)) And you’re right about personal preference, yep. šŸ™‚ Thanks! ^_^


  6. Such a great topic for discussion! I think I fall somewhere between your opinion and Cait’s. I don’t want a grocery list of a character’s physical traits, but I also don’t like faceless stick figures walking around. I’d probably lean more towards the details, but I like seeing them woven into the story. They should build character and personality and plot, you know? Whether the author takes a paragraph to sketch out a charrie’s appearance, or whether the details are shown through action over the course of a scene (she brushed back her auburn hair / the hard run had brought a rosy flush to his usually-pale cheeks / etc.) depends on their own style.

    That being said, I am DEFINITELY with you on getting the details in as soon as possible! I’ve had that before too, where I imagine a character one way, only to have the author suddenly explain it’s the exact opposite. And then you have to contort your brain trying to see things properly! (I’ll admit, at that point I sometimes pretend the author’s description doesn’t exist… >.>)

    Love all the discussion this is generating, btw.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes to all of your things you said. šŸ˜€ It doesn’t have to be a grocery list… it can be worked in, yes. šŸ™‚

      Haha, glad you understand that. šŸ˜‰ Sometimes pretending their description doesn’t exist is the only way to escape. XD

      Yes, it’s fun! Thanks for joining in! ^_^


  7. Yes, I love this! I agree on basically every point. It drives me up the wall when the author waits until way later in the book to start describing the characters. Because then, like you, I’m spending pretty much the entire book trying to readjust how I see this person which distracts me from the story. And once you have a mental image it’s almost impossible to change it, however hard you try. So yes! I want descriptions right away. After all, when we meet a person the first thing we see is what they look like. That’s our first impression of people, their looks. So I feel like it should be the same in books. I mean, their personality is more important, obviously, but we discover WHO they are throughout the book by their actions and words. But we can’t discover how they LOOK without descriptions.

    I also want to know how the author wants me to see their characters. I WANT descriptions. It doesn’t bog down the story to me, it shows me who I’m reading about so I don’t have to spend the entire book wondering who on earth these characters are. All you really need is one quick paragraph. That’s it. I don’t feel like it bogs down the story, it brings it to life.

    Anyways, I feel like I’m just repeating everything you said. So basically, YES. Give me physical character descriptions. I love them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, right? o.o It’s so hard when books do that! It’s so true that the first thing we see is their looks, so we can’t see that unless the author tells us… Yes, yes, I agree with all the things you said!! šŸ˜€ Yeah, I like to know how the author sees the characters too! It really does bring it to life… Yay for descriptions! šŸ™‚


  8. Yeah, I definitely want to at least have a good feel for what a character looks like. I can’t tell you how many times I will be reading a book, totally convinced that a character has, for example: red hair and blue eyes, to suddenly have the author mention their “raven black hair” and then I’m flipping through pages trying to figure out if they CHANGED the character’s hair color, or if I was just inferring it!!!
    So, usually I’m inferring the character trait, and then I, too, have to reimagine the character. Sigh. (On a totally random note, I was ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that CS Lewis told us somewhere the the White Witch had black hair. ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN. I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia like a thousand times… so when the new movie came out and she had blond hair I was SO UPSET… went back and scoured through Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe AND the Magician’s Nephew…. Nothing. Not a mention of her hair color anywhere. (you do find out that she’s beautiful, tall, has a very pale face and very red lips… but no indication about her hair color) I must have assumed since there are little sketches in a lot of the books and her hair is black in the black-and-white sketches…? I have no idea.) On another point, I think that Cait is exaggerating slightly by saying that Chronicles of Narnia holds “literally no description” of characters at all, case in point, when you first meet Mr. Tumnus you get quite a lot of description of him (and you find out a bit about Lucy, as it tells you that he’s only a little taller than Lucy)

    It’s a tough balancing act… because you do want to let your readers’ imaginations soar, and you do want to create a feel… but you also don’t want to just flat out start every character introduction with, “Emily was 5foot 4 and petite for her age, with wispy mouse-brown hair, green eyes, and a smattering of freckles scattered across her nose. Now… on to the story!” there are places for that information, of course, especially if it’s important to the plot or the character development (like if Emily is especially proud of or embarrassed by her freckles and she makes an important or rash or impulsive decision because of that (sort of like Anne Shirley breaking a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head for calling her “Carrots” in reference to her red hair!)

    Ahem. Apparently I have opinions about this, as well. hahahaha. šŸ™‚ Thanks to you and Cait for the bookish discussion topic! Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, same! šŸ™‚ And I think when a book is illustrated, as in the case of the Narnia books, it’s a little easier to think things like that! Though I’m convinced she has black hair too, so you’re not alone. šŸ˜‰ (Not to mention that Lucy’s hair is called blond at least once in the book, and yet the illustrations give her dark hair and she always has dark hair in the adaptions…? Like what? :P) And yes, I agree, the Narnia books often have some great description! šŸ™‚

      Everything you said about the tough balancing act = YES. I agree so much. You put it into words so well!

      Haha, I love that you have opinions about it as well! Thanks for joining in the discussion!! ^_^


  9. Pingback: Ishness of a February Variety | The Road of a Writer


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