Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Character Descriptions

There always seems to be a bit of disagreement as to how much detail you should go into when describing your characters. Some writers say as much as possible, so the reader gets a real image of the character. Other writers say as little as possible, so the reader can form their own idea of the character. I'm inclined towards the latter method, although i have to admit, I'm often urged to do the former.

I think the best thing to do is say what is needed. Don't say your character has blue eyes unless it's relevant. And don't put all the info in at once. Be brief with the initial description, then go into more detail where relevant.

For example, say you have a complete (classic) geek character. You probably won't he's geeky until he falls over his own feet or blurts out some random physics fact in front of a nice lookin' lady. So use it when you need to to develop the character.

I thought I'd include some of my character descriptions just to see what people make of them.

The moonlight from the open window lights up KING's face. He's a middle aged man, wearing clothes you'd expect from a 1970s punk rather than a 2040s man. He has a deep cut on his forehead and dry blood covers part of his face.

So clearly this screenplay is set in the future, but that's irrelevant. What I tried to do here is give the reader an idea of how King looks. I've said he's a punk...nothing more needs to be said. Everyone pretty much knows what a 70s punk looks like. So it works.....I think.

The figure steps into the light and is revealed to be KAYDEN - 21, athletic, with short black hair. He looks at the Professor with a sinister smile.

So this fella above is not a nice bloke. We know this from the sinister smile. (Note to self - sinister smile = evil). I've put an exact age (as opposed to "early 20s) because it's key to the plot. Again, I think the above description works quite well. We don't need to know anything more about Kayden than we are told here.

Now here's an example of too much description. I did it because I had a very clear picture of what these two characters were like. before I try and sell this screenplay, I will probably trim down this particular description. It will hurt me to do so, but it has to be done!

There's room for two people at the console. Sitting at it are MARS; 30 with light hair and a thick jumper, and NOVAK; short, early twenties, wearing a white shirt. On top of his head, in place of hair, is a skull tattoo that gazes up at the ceiling of the ship.

Do we need to know that Mars has light hair? No! That will probably get changed in casting, anyway. And do we need to know that Novak is wearing a white shirt? Of course not! I think I might leave the head tattoo in though, just cos it's pretty cool.

So, that's my opinion on character descriptions - enough to give a sense of what the character is like, but not too much so you seem to be dictating who would play the role.

Shiny writing,


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