How NOT to Write a Character Description

Character descriptions are hard. I’ve read all sorts of articles on character descriptions, and I’ve yet to find anyone who’s got a finger on what should be included in a solid character description. Ultimately your description should be compelling and memorable, and there’s no simple trick for achieving that.

As you struggle over the problem of summarizing your main characters in a sentence each, read over Lucy V. Hay’s advice for what NOT to do:

How are you using your scene description to introduce your characters? Because too frequently, I read intros like this:

i) Any – introduced in scene description by the clothes they wear, or as Julie Gray calls it, a “laundry list”. This tells us virtually NOTHING about their personalities or who they are, guys. Yes, yes, arguably colours or style can give us *some* impression … Or it may not. How many people do YOU know in real life who can be defined by their clothes alone?? (NONE for me). MORE: Character Introductions & Voice 

ii) Male (adult) – usually defined by strength/capability. Whilst it could be argued this *essentially* a positive representation, this also means a line is drawn down the middle between those who “can” and those who “cannot”, creating a massive divide between what we apparently think a real “hero” is, I’d wager. Not. Good. MORE: 5 Reasons Male Characterisation Needs An Overhaul Too

iii) Female (adult) – you guessed it, she’s defined by how sexy she is; the size of her breasts; or even just those ubiquitous words, “beautiful” or “attractive”. I don’t even need to go into why this is an issue, surely – but for the record, the main problem for me has never been the so-called “male gaze”. I like to look at sexy women every bit as much as the next (wo)man and in some storyworlds – gangster/mobster possibly the most obvious – the Sexy Moll can be a justified addition to the cast. The problem is the LACK of alternative, especially in storyworlds that arguably play waaaay too much emphasis on it, ie. the number of  “MILFs” and “Teenage Hottie Older Sisters” that infest spec scripts AND produced content destined for family audiences, especially action/adventure, which is pretty grim IMHO). MORE: Girls On Film 

Read Lucy’s full article on improving action descriptions at Script Magazine.

One thought on “How NOT to Write a Character Description

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  1. I hope no one thinks character description is where you create characters. Character profiles are built up slowly and carefully using a variety of techniques: Enneagrams, Trait lists, Horoscopes, BEST methodology, and imaginary interviews. A character who is real to you will do amazing things, including showing you the direction a script should turn.

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