Describing Your Characters' Features and Actions Subtly

We have had some character development posts already here. Narrating your characters is as important as developing them. By narration, we mean describing the character’s appearance, looks, methods, viewpoints, opinions, feelings, etc. It can be difficult to create a full-fledged character without properly describing him.

Don’t Make It Flat

Look at this:

Ben Thompson doesn’t look like a company’s top official. He barely looked his age of 50. He had quite a good-looking face with pointed moustache, staring intelligent eyes, and sharp raised nose. His ears were pointed like those of a cat, giving him the appearance of Dracula.
This narrative of Ben Thompson the central character is completely flat. It is just another description and doesn’t lead you to any interesting fact about this character. When describing your character’s features, you should make sure that it is not a straightforward description of the features.

Show Characters Through Actions

The best way to describe the features of your character is using their actions describe themselves. This way, there is a progress in the story as well as description of characters. For instance:
"He skipped off the gunrest and looked gravely at his watcher, gathering about his legs the loose folds of his gown. The plump shadowed face and sullen oval jowl recalled a prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages. A pleasant smile broke quietly over his lips."

"He looked in Stephen’s face as he spoke. A light wind passed his brow, fanning softly his fair uncombed hair and stirring silver points of anxiety in his eyes."

Two Examples From Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses has several places with such beautiful subtle narrations. Reading such great works of fiction alone can guide you well in your character narrations.

In order to display your characters’ thoughts and features, action is the best means. Within your scenes, exploit those points when characters look, speak, listen, move about, etc. Insert pretty descriptions of what sort of eyes he uses to look, what sort of voice he has when speaking, what sort of he has, how he moves about, etc.

With such subtle descriptions, you can easily show a handicapped villain with a grating voice to your readers without ever mentioning: “John was handicapped, with a grating voice.”

In a First Person Point of View

When your POV (Point of View) is first person, which means the central character or someone related to him is narrating the story, descriptions can be hard. Particularly self-descriptions, since that gives the impression of self-importance. In such cases, narration of the features of the central character may be given with the help of other characters within the story. Let the other characters describe the features of the central character through their dialog exchange with him.

Related Entries:

Character Development

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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