I’ve mentioned this topic before, but in the abstract. I’m going to be a little more personal this time. When I first introduce a character, even a minor character, I try to think of one or two things about their appearance that can convey to the reader what I think is important to the story. As a reader, I like to know if a character is dark-haired or blond, but I sometimes wait on that detail so that I can use others that are more relevant. After all, if the character is blond but the reader persists in thinking of her as brunette, that’s fine with me. Again, as a reader, I dislike and even resent efforts to tell me what the character looks like. I won’t read illustrated books, like the revisited Harry Potters, because I have my own picture of the characters and scenes in my mind. I assume the same for my readers. So I think detailed descriptions of a character are a waste of time.

With this in mind, I was pleased to find this quote from Stephen King in a blog post in The Non-Fiction Novelist, titled How Readers are Cheated Out of their Imaginations ~

“I’m not particularly keen on writing which exhaustively describes the physical characteristics of the people in the story and what they’re wearing (I find wardrobe inventory particularly irritating; if I want to read descriptions of clothes, I can always get a J. Crew catalogue). I can’t remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story of mine looked like – I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? I don’t need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown. We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forge between us. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

The rest of the post is equally good, and contains a beautiful description of Ford F-150s.

 

 

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