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The New Guy
May 7th, 2003, 06:22 PM
Hi, I am new to the forums, but have been reading it quite a lot lately. I am by no means an experienced writer, in fact probably a very poor one. However I have ideas in my head that must be written, and I have taken up the task of doing so.

Now, here is my dilemma. I want my story to revolve around the main character quite closely; as such I want to use a first person perspective. I am not an experienced writer, so bare with me.

I am currently working on the first chapter, of my novel (story, whatever). At this point I would like to describe the main character, physically, and mentally, and the world which encapsulates him. However I find it hard to describe that character in first person. ‘I have brown hair and blue eyes’, ignoring the obviously lack of colorful words the statement seems rather, robotic, or something to that effect. Could you recommend to me, some of the styles you use, to describe your character?

Also as this will be in first person, and I apologize for my lack of knowledge, but if he/she has a thought does that thought have to be in quotes?

Thanks :)

May 7th, 2003, 06:50 PM
I think several people here will suggest that you don't actually describe the character. Just mention his attributes throughout the first part of the story in passing, to avoid an information dump.

I remember in a few stories I've read that are in first person, the character will sometimes evaluate himself/herself reflecting on what makes him/her the person he/she is. They usually mention physical characteristics, as well as background. However, it's not written as a information dump. The information is presented as part of the storyline showing that they're struggling to figure out who they are and find their place in the world.

If you have coherent thoughts, what writers usually do is put the thoughts into italics. Usually I would avoid this, as it can get annoying if done repeatively. I would only use this if the character is speaking to himself in his head and would have spoken the words out loud if nobody else was around. Or if there is a physic conversation happening. Many of the thoughts people have are abstract, the kind that zips though your head without actually forming into words. Just write in a narrator style for those cases, describing what the character was thinking at the time.

May 7th, 2003, 08:29 PM
Hi. I agree with John's suggestions. You could also try researching some novels (even read excerpts on amazon.com) that are written in the first person to see how others are doing it and what techniques you gravitate towards.

I have only written one story in the first person and I found it somewhat harder than doing one in third.

Good luck!

Aidan Aasarin
May 7th, 2003, 11:03 PM
If you have an opportunity, pick up a copy of a Steven Brust novel from the Taltos series. he does a fine job of writing in the first. If you study his writing, you will see that he uses very little description of the Main Character. Out of the six or seven books he has written with this character, the only description he has alluded to or otherwise given plainly would be a mustache and its color and his relative heighth and build in comparison to others. From reading that series and seeing how well it worked, I would say to limit your description as much as you can. Let the reader decide on the minute details.

May 7th, 2003, 11:05 PM
I love writing in first person. It's a lot more forgiving in terms of style because the narration isn't so impersonal.

As for first person description, one technique is to sprinkle it throughout the story as John said, but you can also use other character's reactions and comments to paint the picture, something I'm fond of. I've read authors, mainly mystery writers, who did this well and it was impressive.

I, Brian
May 8th, 2003, 06:36 AM
Definitely read other novels written in first person - if you check out any book shop they're not too hard to locate - quick flick through will show what the POV style is.

Possibly the worst cliche in first person is to view the reflection in a mirror or pond. Pointless, really, as the reader will most definitely fit themselves into whatever frame is given. They will assimilate the character with themselves and create an image that way. Attributes will create that frame.

The relevant descriptions shouldn't be too hard to add - but only a few important ones used sparingly.

May 8th, 2003, 12:41 PM
You've got oodles of options.

First of all, first person puts the viewpoint character in the position of essentially telling his or her story to the audience. Therefore, it's perfectly acceptable to just go: "I have curly brown hair and I'm not too tall," etc., if you want to do that. If that seems too awkward to you, you can:

1. Have the person look at himself in a reflective surface briefly -- mirror, window, pond, etc.

2. Slip in physical details as the person might logically notice them about himself

3. Have the person think about how other people may be viewing him

4. Compare himself to another person -- "My brother and I looked alike, except I got the red hair in the family."

5. Have other people mention his physical aspects in dialogue.

Or you can leave out any detail at all or leave it at only gender and age. Reading first person books will give you an idea of the range of approaches you can take.

May 8th, 2003, 12:56 PM
I've found that the most commonly described character traits beginning writers focus on are: hair colour and eye colour, followed by maybe build (tall, athletic, frumpy etc.). One thing to keep in mind is that you're not compiling a police report. The reader most likely won't be going out into his or her neighbourhood looking for this character. When describing a character, you want to focus on traits that define him or her as a character.

In first person this is a little more difficult, but keep in mind - every person's favourite subject it him or herself. There are ways of describing a person, without being overly blatant about it. For example:

I took the stairs to get to the tenth floor. I told Sam that I've always hated elevators - that small spaces crammed with lots of people bug me. That particular elevator didn't bug me though. I just couldn't fit into my size thirty-six jeans anymore. That's what really bothered me, although I'd never admit that to Sam.


"You cut your hair," she said, resting her head in her hands staring at me. "Why? I liked it better long."

"Long hair is a sign of weakness," I said. "It is a clear demonstration of a man's inability to groom himself - a lack of attention to detail."

"I have long hair."

"You're a woman. The rules are different for women."

I, Brian
May 8th, 2003, 03:35 PM
1. Have the person look at himself in a reflective surface briefly -- mirror, window, pond, etc.

Actually, this is something usually thoroughly advised against.

The New Guy, get youself reading a copy of "Character and Viewpoint" by Orson Scott Card. There's a lot of info there on POV use that I think you'd find essentially useful.

May 8th, 2003, 06:31 PM
Originally posted by I, Brian

Actually, this is something usually thoroughly advised against.

Yeah, there're a lot of things "advised against" in fiction writing; that doesn't mean that they're right. The reflective surface approach is really just a version of the idea that the viewpoint character happens to notice something about his or her appearance, and therefore notes it in the narrative. If you catch sight of yourself in the mirror, for instance, and note that your bangs are sticking up askew, it's a perfectly normal thing. It's something that the character sees and therefore, can describe. It can be done in third person as well as first person. It can also be developed as part of the symbolic imagery in a story. In fact, in some stories, it might be a vitally important part of the plot that the character studies his face in a reflective surface.

It might be sort of fun, though, to have a vampire twist, you know: "I looked in the mirror, but the slender man with long black hair and a white face could not be seen." :)