Picture this:

There’s a post that occasionally does the rounds on the internet challenging beginner writers to describe a woman in a picture. The woman in question would generally perceived to be attractive, the assumption behind the task is that some writers will concentrate on her physical appearance. The challenge is seen by some as a test or a trap.

The post is a good test for beginner writers, though not for the reason some think it is. The reason is that no writer worth their salt would describe a character solely as a list of physical characteristics. No fiction writer, I should say. Fiction writing is about communicating emotion, not recounting facts.

You might be surprised how little physical description is included on books.

Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, one of the most eligible men in fiction is famously described as tall and dark. That’s it. It’s his character, his actions, that make him attractive.

When asked to describe someone in their story, a writer would think about the character first. Are they clever, shy, mean, manipulative, generous?  Does anything about their appearance suggest this?

Beauty is subjective, how are you going to make your character attractive to the reader?

1 Comment

  1. Chris says:

    Even if you do describe a character, as some Victoria novelists do in some detail, I doubt many readers carefully construct a mental picture to conform with it. I’ve tried sometimes but I just can’t do it. “He had a rather prominent jaw, thick dark eyebrows, and a sensuous, rather cruel mouth…” Does that really conjure up a picture? I think, as a reader, I just take a few works ‘dark,’ ‘sensuous’, ‘cruel’ and go with that. (That said, I think there is something rather priggish about not mentioning someone’s attractiveness, if writing from the viewpoint of a character, because I think it’s one of the things we do first notice, even if we’re straight and the person is of our own sex.)


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