Creating Unique Character Descriptions

By on September 29, 2016

I followed a reader discussion last week on character descriptions. The consensus was that many of the descriptions were…well…boring as hell. Every hero was ‘handsome.’ Every heroine was ‘beautiful.’ Some readers questioned if descriptions were needed at all.

When a reader questions whether or not a passage is needed, we, writers, know we have work to do.

I’ve been guilty of poor character descriptions in the past. I’ve described my characters the way I see them, using the words I would use.

And that’s the issue. I’m not the point of view character. A cyborg hero or a billionaire businessman hero or bada$$ biker hero would view his heroine much differently than I, a human female writer, would.

On Saturday, I watched Race, a movie about Jesse Owens. This movie was brilliant for a number of reasons. The storytelling and characterization was tight. It also gave us great examples of how different people first view the same person (Jesse Owens). The football coach saw race. That was his first impression of Jesse Owens. The track and field coach, in contrast, saw someone who could run fast, who had natural athletic ability. That was what he considered important. The German filmmaker, ironically, didn’t see race first. She saw an interesting character, someone who could add excitement to her film.

How a character is described can say as much about the point of view character as it says about the character being described. What does our point of view character notice first?

The cyborgs in my stories are manufactured to be warriors. They value strength, size, power. The first thing Barrel, the cyborg hero of this December’s freebie short story Jumping Barrel, notices about Nola, his heroine, is her big hair (it’s humid and she has big time frizz). He has never seen a female with so much hair. In his mind and in his processors, this makes her ‘the best’ (which is also important to cyborgs as only the best warriors survive training).

Can the hero be described as ‘handsome’ and the heroine be described as ‘beautiful’? Of course. If the point of view character would use those specific words. But the concept of ‘handsome’ and ‘beautiful’ should reflect the point of view character’s vision. For example, a badly scarred hero might think anyone with flawless skin is beautiful. Or a hero with brightly-colored tattoos might think anyone with blue or green or orange hair is beautiful.

For me, ensuring descriptions reflect both the point of view character and the character being described is a task for the second draft. Being a pantser (a writer who writes by the seat of her pants, without knowing the plot), I often don’t have a strong grasp on my point of view characters at the beginning of the first draft. Once I’ve written the first draft, I know the nuances of their personalities, their strengths, weaknesses, goals, fears. I can incorporate these into the description.

How do you make your character descriptions unique?

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Wild. Free. Hers.

Mayhem has spent his lengthy lifespan obeying the Humanoid Alliance’s rules. Finally free from their cruel control, the cyborg warrior plans to cause chaos. He infiltrates a remote settlement, provokes the savage locals until they want him dead, and allows himself to be captured by the sexiest little Retriever he has ever laid his mechanically-enhanced eyes on.

Imee’s sole mission in life is to keep her family alive. To do this, she must hunt rebels, returning them to the Humanoid Alliance’s evil clutches where they will be executed. She doesn’t allow herself to feel anything for her targets…until she meets a tall, muscular cyborg with wild hair and even wilder eyes.

With his sure hands, laughing lips and erotic holds, Mayhem makes Imee’s body sizzle and her resistance melt. Their love is doomed. She must deliver the warrior to his death or she’ll place her family’s safety at risk. But she can’t resist him.

Imee soon discovers that Mayhem, life, and love are never predictable.

Chasing Mayhem is Book 6 in the Cyborg Sizzle series and is a STANDALONE story.
It is also a BBW Cyborg SciFi Romance.

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