can write a book - but it takes something special
to create a best-seller
Lee Masterson's step-by-step guide can show you
to write and sell great short stories easily!
Lee Masterson's best-selling step-by-step guide
can show you how to turn your stories into cash!
Click Here to learn more!
Great Pay - Quick Jobs
Best Selling Author Nick Daws exposes
little-known writing markets willing to pay great
rates for writers willing to work now!
Adding Character Depth Through
How do you describe your character's physical appearance?
It's not always easy to describing your characters
without resorting to the cliched "She looked in the
mirror and saw..."
Likewise, setting the scene for each part of your story
is an important element of building your fictional world.
In fact, some authors go to great lengths to describe the
weather patterns, the scenery and the passing traffic in
detail so that the reader has a sense of the world around
This kind of descriptive narrative can sometimes be long
and cumbersome. It can also bog down the pace of your
story if not done right - especially when all the experts
are saying Show - don't tell!
Many authors are careful to explain exactly what is going
on in their fictional worlds. What people look like, what
objects around them look like, what characters are
thinking about, how the weather is behaving, the precise
color of an object, what characters are seeing around
them... This means the author is telling
the reader what to see.
But not many authors actually take the time to write HOW
their characters are seeing the things that are going on
around them. This is where the author should be showing
the reader what's happening. Your own characters are a
perfect tool to use when you need to show events or
appearances or even moods.
Let me explain...
Every person on the planet sees life through their own
personal perceptions. How they choose to interpret those
perceptions is largely up to that person and can be
affected by a multitude of factors.
These differing perceptions are what make us unique as
human beings. What excites one person may repel another.
What one person sees as attractive, another may find
repulsive. What one character yearns for may send another
character into panic attacks.
example: A sunny day might brighten the mood of one
character and seriously frighten a person with a phobia
of skin cancer. The same sunny day would therefore have a
completely different effect on the latter character and
would skew many of his other perceptions, too.
The same is true for personal relationship preferences.
Some people are attracted to curvaceous women, while
others are repelled by them. Still others prefer the
gorgeous occidental features of Asian people while others
veer toward the svelte, slinky blonde types.
Because we all have such different tastes and opinions,
these perceptions of what we find appealing and
unappealing will color your descriptions of those things.
Remembering to use these differences in character
perspective can add depth to your characters by showing
your readers much about their personalities - all without
actually using narrative to TELL your readers what's
So how does a writer show things happening, or describe
another character, without resorting to large chunks of
descriptive narrative AND remember to add the unique
perspective of the character at the same time?
The simple answer is: Dialogue.
When your characters talk to each other, you should be
using the opportunity to express much more than simply
words. Dialogue can propel your plotline, it can
highlight the importance of conflicts, it can show
character perspective and it can show the reader many
other things - all at once.
"I hate this miserable rain. All I can do is sit
around and mope in the house until it stops," Fred
"If we run, we can get to the stream and catch
some frogs. The rain always brings out the frogs!"
In just two sentences within the dialogue tags, I have
(hopefully) conveyed something about the weather, given a
sense of the character's mood, described what the
character is doing, and given each character a unique
perspective on what is happening.
Both characters are viewing the rain in a completely
different way - and neither of the above examples
required lengthy blocks of narrative to achieve the same
"Jane tossed her long golden tresses over her
shoulder to flow down her slender back. Running the tip
of her tongue over wide, full lips, her emerald green
eyes glinted with a hint of promise to come and she
crossed her long, supple legs slowly."
"John ran a perfectly manicured hand through his
raven black hair, his sparkling blue eyes taking in every
inch of her..."
Have you ever read a book in which the characters are
described in unwieldy chunks of narrative as though they
were no more than cardboard cut-outs of a Barbie and Ken
In over-exaggerated examples like the ones above, it is
obvious that the 'narrator' has stopped the story and
interrupted you - the reader! - to remind you how
fabulous the author wants you to think these people look.
The problem with this approach is the author has
forgotten that all readers have different opinions on
what's attractive. More importantly, her characters
should be the ones voicing their thoughts and
So is it necessary to include these bland descriptions in
your narrative at all?
Recently I read a lengthy book (1,050 pages). The book
was very detailed, the scope was sweeping and the cast
was huge. Yet nowhere in the entire book did the author
mention what any of the characters looked like during
his narrative. He only ever offered his
character's perceptions of other characters. I actually
read the book twice to check how the author achieved this
I found this method to be extremely effective. It showed
me each character's viewpoint as a distinct and separate
perception. Each person saw different qualities in the
people they interacted with, so the physical traits
altered to suit those perceptions with each description.
He did the same thing with certain furnishings, scenery,
weather patterns and moods. Every description in the book
came from another character commenting on it in some way
that was relevant to the story.
Several times throughout the book the author made
references to certain features to identify who people
were talking about. For example, the main character had a
scar running along the left side of his face. The reader
only knows this because we saw it through another
character's eyes during the dialogue - and not
in a narrative description.
"...I tell you, Stan, when Alec glared at me
with those dead eyes, I nearly passed out with fear. I
knew he was angry when hideous scar started to twitch.
When it does that, the whole left side of his face
contorts and you just know he's thinking he wants to cut
And yet - a different character describes Alec this way:
...Miranda sighed and let her chin rest in the cup of
her hand. "He's got those deep, dreamy blue eyes.
The kind you just want to get lost in, I guess. And when
he looks at me, his scar jumps - like he's trying to hold
back a smile."
These two people are describing the same character -
Alec. One perceives him as hard and violent. The other
sees him as dreamy.
During the book a male character tried to tell Alec what
a woman looked like (she was the target for an
"The target has the classic hooker look.
Bleached blonde, cleavage on display for anyone to see
and legs that go forever under a cheap leather mini. And
a face that could break concrete. Hard as nails, she is."
That was HIS perception of the person -
not the actual physical traits of the woman in question.
Nowhere in any of those descriptions did the author say
"5 feet 10 inches, blonde, thin, blue eyes, full
lips". His descriptions only encompassed what the
person doing the describing saw through his or her own
Have you ever heard the adage "One man's
trash is another man's treasure"?
Your characters should be able to view the things around
them according to their own predilections and personal
Example: "Oh my! What a hideous vase. I can't
believe someone would actually pay money for a
monstrosity like that."
"Oh, look at that gorgeous vase! The color will
match my curtains perfectly."
Adding small differences in the way your characters view
the objects around them will add a sense of realism to
your work and bring depth to your characters.
Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.
Outside the Square - Fiction Workshop
Boost Your Writing Income and get Paid to Write
Best-Sellers in 3 Years!
Brilliant New Course by Nick Daws will show you
how to write any book in 28 days or less -
For Profit - How to Break into Magazines
Learn the easy way to break into lucrative