Accepting Character Descriptions as Written
Updated: Sep 14
As a writer, I have to follow creative writing rules and standards in order to please readers. As much as I’m okay with most of the craft guidelines, there are a few aspects about readers that I wish were different. That is how I wish readers would be more okay with characters’ physical descriptions. Please note that I am not criticizing anyone who believes the opposite of what I do. I respect others’ opinions. But this is how I actually feel.
Just because there are no pictures in novels (excluding graphic novels), that doesn’t mean the writers shouldn’t physically describe their characters. However, most experts say to keep the descriptions to a minimum or only describe what is important and let the readers picture them their ways. In fact, some people have even said that they will rebel against the characters’ description and picture them their own ways. For example, one might picture a blonde character dark-haired.
What if that blonde character is from a bestselling book that becomes a movie and that same character is also blonde in the film? It’s not like you could file a complaint to Hollywood for that.
I support the idea of authors describing their characters with as many physical traits as desired. That being said, they shouldn’t describe everything. That’s because it would be too much to remember and would bog down the narrative. The only time I’d understand readers getting upset over physical descriptions is if the traits were offensive (i.e. never say something like, “Mr. Yang looked at me through his squinted eyes.” That’s a big no-no!).
I have a feeling that readers forget that characters’ physical appearances get presented to them all the time outside novels. They see how characters look in movies, TV shows, live performances, comics, picture books (if they are, have, or work with small children), and graphic novels. If they’re okay with Wonder Woman having dark hair or Timmy Turner having blue eyes, then how would a novel character being described with red hair, or green eyes, and so on be an issue? One person said that they still didn’t like being told what the characters look like and said, “We have movies for that.”
Which brings me to my next point: the readers don’t own the content—the writers do. Therefore, I think they deserve the right to describe the characters to their readers. If only the readers would acknowledge that the characters are somebody else’s creations, property, and copyright. Therefore, if only they would accept that another person created the content and gets to have a say in their appearances. If readers really like a certain physical attribute of a person, they could consider creating their own characters with those.