I’m a delightfully odd bean in that I don’t imagine characters when I’m reading. They are basically blobs of facelessness, with maybe a feature or two that sticks to my puny brain whilst devouring the book. Like if there’s an emphasis on curly hair? The character will be a BLOB FACE + CURLY HAIR. It’s all very elegant and professional in my head, honestly.
I’ve talked about my inability to visualise faces before, but today I have a slightly different question. Because I’m full of questions. You love that about me.
Is it even a GOOD THING when authors spend a lot of time describing characters?
For me, who royally sucks at imagining faces, you think I’d want more description, right? RIGHT? WELL…I’m torn about it honestly. Without description and details, I do have the ability to think what I want. Even though there’s no outright FACE in my imagination, I still often give characters various ethnicities or features even if it’s not stated. It’s freeing to think about a character anyway you want.
But at the same time? It’s no fun when characters aren’t described AT ALL and are just…there.
So obviously we need a pros and cons list, right? RIIIIGHT. Oh I knew you’d agree.
P R O S
- FOR THOSE WHO DO VISUALISE, IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL, RIGHT? If you’re the kind of reader that likes to fancast and visualise…it’s kind of a big deal! You need somewhere to start!
- LOOKS CAN BE DEFINING FOR CHARACTERS AND MAKE THEM DIMENSIONAL AND COMPLEX. Because if you have long hair, honestly? It is part of your entire life. Yes, I had long hair once. It strangles you in your sleep. It gets in your food. (Seriously: THIS IS THE WORST.) You spend a lot of time attacking it with a brush. Those kind of descriptions are excellent in books, because it brings characters off the page! Same as saying the character has freckles, a crooked nose, red demon eyes, etc… It’s character building.
- SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO IF YOU WANT TO BREAK THE DEFAULTS. I’m sure this isn’t true for everyone’s thinking, but often the default is: white. I think this is partially because movies and media so often fail at presenting diversity. And if you don’t describe someone in a book, odds are they’ll be assumed white. This really frustrates me, because it’s unfair and illogical…merp. Also, FYI, according to my genius google researches, white/Europeans make up 5% of the population. Um…who is the minority here?! LITERATURE: GET ON THIS.
- FANDOMS WILL LOVE YOU MORE. Because it is hard to be an artist and have no descriptions to work with. Actually it’s freaking hard to be an artist. Whyyyyy is art so hard? IT’D BE EASIER TO BE A PIRATE, TO BE HONEST. But I digress.
- IT GIVES THOSE OF US WITH HORRIBLE IMAGINATIONS SOMETHING TO GO ON. Like moi. Precious moi, who is like “Oh this character is so cute! They look like…a…cute smudge?” Ergo I am grateful when an author leaves tidbits that I can clumsily piece together.
- THEY’RE GOOD FOR BREAKING STEREOTYPES. Because if I say “pirate” you’re going to think of an eye-patch and a wooden leg and that’s not fair to all pirates. Some pirates have wooden arms or whatnot. A great way to break stereotypes is to describe the characters.
C O N S
- READERS ARE NEVER EVER GOING TO FULLY AGREE. I’ve looked at fancast boards for books I love and just…nope. Even if I don’t particularly imagine the characters, they STILL DON’T LOOK LIKE THAT.
- MOVIE MAKING PEOPLE ARE STILL GOING TO IGNORE IT. Haaa…I mean, did Divergent not specifically say Four was 18 years old with black hair? I don’t know about you but Theo James doesn’t fit either of those categories. We won’t talk about the Percy Jackson movies and Annabeth right now….WE JUST WON’T.
- IT CAN BE TEDIOUS TO READ ABOUT. I mean, some books are really insecure about their descriptions, so they make sure to tell us that “Gorgeous ethereal Bob has azure blue eyes like the sea in the autumn equinox” over and over and ooooooover. And it makes you want to stab Bob’s eyes out with a spork, basically. Or maybe only I am that violent. Let’s hope.
- NOT TO MENTION SOME DESCRIPTIONS ARE REALLY UNREALISTIC? I don’t actually blame people for writing books were mostly everyone is gorgeous. I get the whys. I’m not saying it’s right!! But I understand. Plus it’s fiction and fiction isn’t supposed to be 100% realistic. But I find it irritating when teenage boys are built like Adonises (despite never working out????) and everyone has such stunningly colourful eyes. Like maybe I’M JUST THE WEIRD ONE HERE, but when you bump into someone, do you really notice the precise shade of their eyes??? Because book characters always do.
- IF YOU DON’T DESCRIBE, THEN YOU LEAVE THE BOOK OPEN TO INTERPRETATION. Which is nice, I think. Those with imagination can do what they want.
- WITHOUT COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF DESCRIPTION, YOU CAN INSERT YOURSELF INTO A STORY EASILY. It allows us to make characters more relatable to us. Like 90% of book characters (unless specified) to me are small, smaaaall, beans. Because I am a small bean.
It obviously boils down to what YOU like and prefer. Like everything does. BECAUSE WE ARE ALL SECRETLY LOKI AND DO WHAT WE WANT. But, that aside, I’m interested to gather the opinions of humans and mortals such as yourselves. Because comparing opinions is like one of the best part of blogging, right?!
Personally? I’m for less-is-more when it comes to character description. I want some, but not a TON. I want to know what race they are and their height and if their hair is awesome. (I have a mild hair obsession which is not helped by Jon Snow’s pretty flowing locks.) I want to know how they view themselves. I want them to be realistic and not super-models.
And if I read a book with like only 2% character descriptions? I’M OKAY WITH THAT. Entirely okay. Get into the story and action and witty banter and descriptions of glorious food instead. PLEASE AND THANK YOU.