Authorguy's Blog

Does size matter?

Posted on: August 18, 2010

When it comes to description, I prefer to let actions speak louder than words.  In a way this is a variant of the old ‘Show don’t tell’ policy advocated to all writers everywhere.  I could just tell you that Jasec is this tall, weighs this much, etc., etc., but I prefer to do it like this:

Both Ravan and Fenita grinned, safely hidden behind the expanse of Jasec’s broad back.

The stranger paused, staring up, and up some more, at Jasec’s towering figure, at Jasec’s face, set in an expression of disapproval.  “My mistake,” he stammered out.  “I must have…mistaken you for someone else.”

This excerpt does not actually describe Jasec in the normal sense, you still don’t know what color his eyes are or his hair, but those things don’t matter to me and so I don’t include them, as a matter of course.   Since I write from the perspective of the character this doesn’t usually show, as I don’t imagine anyone spends any part of their day thinking about their own physical attributes, so my characters don’t either.  Even if I were to pull the old ‘look at myself in the mirror’ ploy I would focus my attention on what they were looking for specifically, the change in the appearance, not the appearance itself.  Unless, of course, the whole appearance had changed, but then it would matter and no one would mind.

 He noticed movement behind him and he spun, lashing out at the intruder’s face, sporting a star outlined on his forehead in lines of blue.  The blow landed true, but a shield protected the other man from the force of it…

Here the point of interest is not the man’s face, but the star on the forehead.  Tarkas has never seen his own face so clearly, but immediately takes him for a villager.  In an earlier version of the scene this is even stated, but since another purpose of the scene is to show Tarkas’ new fighting skills, which he himself doesn’t know he possesses, I could not stop to make the description explicit.

Some people say they like explicit description, so they know how to visualize the characters as they read.  Others don’t like them, especially when the description in the text clashes with the description in their heads.  Let’s not forget the book covers, especially when they also don’t match the description in either place!  Most readers are quite capable of coming up with their own ideas of what my characters look like, without any instructions from me.  I don’t think I said anything at all about what Joseph Marquand looked like, in St. Martin’s Moon.  On the other hand, Candace is introduced in a burst of descriptive text:

“In–” Oh, my. Yes. Very. Hmmm. Quite. “–deed?” Marquand was suddenly at a loss for words. Tall, practically glowing with a fiery aura, probably just her hair in the bright lights. Not to mention the cheekbones, and the chin, and the–Oh yes.

Not necessarily what she looks like, but what she looks like to him.

How much detail do you like?


2 Responses to "Does size matter?"

Great take on description.


I’m with you on the describing thing. Explicit description always seems a bit to much like ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing.’


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