Friday, March 6, 2009

Tip on Describing People

If you describe people, don’t just plop the description down in a long passage and pause the story. I see this a lot in novels. I will be reading along, enjoying the story, and out of the blue, a paragraph or more will fall that stalls the story and tells me - in pinpoint accuracy - the look of a character or what he/she is wearing.

I either cut or suggest that a writer cut out some if not most of these descriptions because many of them are not integral to the story. There is no need to tell the height, weight, etc., of every new person that comes onto the scene, and if it is important, then you want to integrate it into the story seamlessly. There should be a “reason” why the material is pertinent to the story at hand.

For example - bad is plopping a whole paragraph into the story in which you describe someone being overweight simply because that character shows up in your story. Good is while this character is sprinting like an Olympian, you tell us about that character being overweight. The former just tells us information we might not need, but the latter shows us the information in an interesting light, and we learn something about the character, too.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment. Shon has her own sexy little story, Saying No to the Big O, that was published last year: check it out!


  1. Another key thing is to use that description to let the reader in on the pov character's perceptions and thoughts. If she thinks horrible things about someone whom she thinks is fat, or thin or blond or whatever, that gives the reader some useful insight.

    My rule of thumb is try to make your prose do double duty whereever possible.

  2. So good! I'm reading a novel right now with way too much telling. In this case, it's data about Alzheimers that sounds like a national headquarters brochure. Very disconcerting.

    And now off to get through the word verification which apparently won't be turned off. Apologies.


  3. Good advice. Don't give us info dump or description overload. The descriptions you give can be spread out and should be relevant to what's happening at the time. Often the way the POV character thinks about another character tells us more about the POV character than the character s/he is describing. That's a good way to have your words do double duty.

  4. Totally agree that writers should make their prose do double duty. When it doesn't it runs the risk of not being dynamic, not being active; it can slow down a read.

  5. Some easy ways to describe height are by having a character bend down a bit when entering through a doorway, or trying to reach something that's too high and pulling up a stool.

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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