Last night Hannah Celina emailed us with this question:
I think describing physical characteristics of the MC in third person limited is slightly easier than doing so in first person. Even with a very close third, there’s still that extra layer of “distance” there, so things like “Viola fidgeted with her hair, running her fingers through the coarse blonde curls” sounds better than “I fidgeted with my hair, running my fingers through the coarse blonde curls”…though in my opinion, the second isn’t so bad, either.
The most important thing, I believe, is creating a situation where it makes sense for the character to be noticing things about her own body. This is why the mirror trick works–when a person looks in the mirror, they’re examining themselves, so it only makes sense that they think about their physical appearance. However, this trick has been used so much in literature that it does annoy some people.
Try thinking of other situations in which someone would note their own looks. Say, if they say someone related to them and thought “Viola imagined her mother was the carbon copy of how she herself would look in thirty years, when her blonde hair started showing streaks of gray.” Or maybe compare and contrast Viola to someone else: “The man was barely taller than Viola, and that was saying something.” (we get the hint that Viola isn’t exactly statuesque).
Tying physical description with physical movement is also a good trick. The fidgeting with hair line is one example. Tall characters can have to duck through low doorways. Short ones might have trouble reaching something high up. Things like that
Also, there’s a recent post from Janice Hardy answering the same thing!
What tricks do you use to describe your characters?