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How late is too late to describe a character?

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Old 02-21-2013, 07:28 PM
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Default How late is too late to describe a character?


this is something I've been thinking about.

description of characters is important. But you can jam too much in too early. or too much in at one time.

It's a balancing act.

But how late is too late? For me the idea of reading about a character for a few chapters even, and then finding out she's a blonde when I thought she was a red head, it's not a big deal.

Neither is any visual trait for that matter.

I just don't care, but as a writer I don't want that happening to any of my readers. So I struggle with trying to get as much necessary info in as early as possible. I leave out stuff that doesn't matter, sometimes it's just enough that you know a guy's fat or muscular.

Anyway, just wanted to ask if any one had tips on this. Fun little tricks of the trade on getting detail in without slowing down the story. How late is too late to add a detail in? Stuff like that.

It's something I struggle with at least a little.
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Old 02-21-2013, 07:57 PM
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I like to describe the character after I introduce the setting and the characters themselves. And I like to give information sparsely. I take the first chapter as the introductory chapter and use the whole chapter as a way of introducing the themes, the characters, and the settings.
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Old 02-21-2013, 11:43 PM
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I like a list of the important features in one or two sentences when a pretty normal character is introduced.
If the person is a redhead that is special in my eyes. I'd write that right away ... blonde or brown can wait. Not so normal characters (think Hagrid) can get more sentences.

Of course that applies to parts of the story where some storytelling is going on that you don't want to distract from. In special circumstances, e.g. if the MC is checking out other characters (and descriptions become a part of the storytelling), I'd write about what the MC thinks about as intriguing.

That could also be seen as a trick ... mixing the description with storytelling (emotions that change, a threat that is introduced etc.).

I am struggling with the fact that my main character is black. I don't see how mentioning that over and over again would not seem extremely weird ... but on the other hand it might be easy to miss when it is only mentioned once.
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Old 02-21-2013, 11:44 PM
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Old 02-21-2013, 11:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Rooster Smith View Post
this is something I've been thinking about.

description of characters is important. But you can jam too much in too early. or too much in at one time.

It's a balancing act.

But how late is too late? For me the idea of reading about a character for a few chapters even, and then finding out she's a blonde when I thought she was a red head, it's not a big deal.

Neither is any visual trait for that matter.

I just don't care, but as a writer I don't want that happening to any of my readers. So I struggle with trying to get as much necessary info in as early as possible. I leave out stuff that doesn't matter, sometimes it's just enough that you know a guy's fat or muscular.

Anyway, just wanted to ask if any one had tips on this. Fun little tricks of the trade on getting detail in without slowing down the story. How late is too late to add a detail in? Stuff like that.

It's something I struggle with at least a little.
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Old 02-22-2013, 01:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Signature View Post
I like a list of the important features in one or two sentences when a pretty normal character is introduced.
If the person is a redhead that is special in my eyes. I'd write that right away ... blonde or brown can wait. Not so normal characters (think Hagrid) can get more sentences.

Of course that applies to parts of the story where some storytelling is going on that you don't want to distract from. In special circumstances, e.g. if the MC is checking out other characters (and descriptions become a part of the storytelling), I'd write about what the MC thinks about as intriguing.

That could also be seen as a trick ... mixing the description with storytelling (emotions that change, a threat that is introduced etc.).

I am struggling with the fact that my main character is black. I don't see how mentioning that over and over again would not seem extremely weird ... but on the other hand it might be easy to miss when it is only mentioned once.
You could have him constantly comparing the differences between black people and other ethnicities in a humorous or serious way.

I call that the stand up comedian method, haha...

Shouldn't be necessary to do it more than twice. I think you'll be fine of it's a novel or short story. Only serialized fiction would need a great many reintroductions. Thanks for the advice.

Thanks everybody else too.
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Old 02-22-2013, 01:56 AM
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I've only ever heard people say you shouldn't describe a character in the opening chapter...
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Old 02-22-2013, 02:56 AM
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As a reader I like it in the opening chapter or not at all. In a really good story the first chapter has me attached to the main character and personally I hate it when that character "changes" in my head in the next chapter. It pulls me right out of the story and keeps me confused for the rest of the book.

I'd rather have a sentence or two infodump.

As a writer I aim for the first few pages to give a description.
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Old 02-22-2013, 05:39 AM
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Do it early seems to make sense rather than messing with the image someone has come up with on his own. But is there something that could be revealed about a character's appearance later that might provide a twist of some kind? Who knows? Anything is possible.
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Old 03-03-2013, 01:29 AM
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I'm very guilty of almost never describing my characters and when I do, it gets done sparingly. My worst habit is not describing the narrator, or else only describing him or her against another, better described character but never in their own right. To me a description is better left loose.
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Old 03-03-2013, 06:30 AM
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I don't want too much description to get in the way of the storyline. I suppose it depends on the genre, but I tend to write mainly crime stories where what is happening is probably more important than what people look like. If you do describe somebody in this genre, I think you have to think of the greats. Being a Brit, I have to accept they are all American: Chandler, Ross MacDonald and Robert B Parker.

Agatha Christie on the other hand hardly ever describes anyone very much.

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