How to Describe Characters (without boring your readers)

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  • Published on Aug 10, 2018
  • Character descriptions can often feel boring or awkwardly inserted into the story. But describing both physical traits and personality traits can be done in a way that fits seamlessly into the story. In this video I use published novels to demonstrate how to make your character descriptions engaging.
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Comments • 87

  • Dimé Vee
    Dimé Vee 4 months ago

    Nice, but I use the beginning paragraph to describe my Male character being his looks are a major part of the book. But I use this method for other characters

  • Meriah Smith
    Meriah Smith 4 months ago

    Thanks for this video. Pausing in the middle of the action to make descriptions is a problem I recently learned that I did in my writing. I won't fix the problems until I get a professional editor, but in future writings I will definitely use this method.

  • Jack Lotz
    Jack Lotz 4 months ago +1

    Good advice!

  • Simon Shares
    Simon Shares 5 months ago +1

    Is it ok to release elements of the MC appearance during the WHOLE of the book. E.g. dimples in cheeks described 70% into the book?

  • Bent Helical
    Bent Helical 5 months ago +1

    I plow through a lot of characters, because my main characters have ended up on the move more than I expected when I started this journey, so I try to keep them vague, but I still feel a little infodumpy hoping I'll fix that in redrafts. I've occasionally worked it into descriptions of what's happening but due to the large population of passing people I 'm already begining to feel like too many people's hair has been picked up by the wind, or beards have been stroked (though in all fairness, I stroke my beard a lot), or massaged their own scalp stressed in various stages of receding hairline. I'm starting to get oddly comfortable with dropkicking a quick rundown of vague appearance the first time a POV character sees them then opportunistically reference those characteristics later when something's happening.
    I've found most of these video's quite vindicating and reassuring that I'm on the right track with most things, but yes, this is one of the things I'm most paranoid about as a potential weakness. I think I'm largely unimaginative when it comes to incorporating descriptions.

  • SomeYoungPunk
    SomeYoungPunk 5 months ago

    This is actually something I’m currently struggling with. I think I will save this video so I can go back to it

  • C T
    C T 6 months ago +1

    Hii😊 how do we keep the description subtle if we want to describe the main character of the story with using first person writing? Thank you

  • Patrick Null
    Patrick Null 6 months ago

    See, describing secondary characters from the eyes of the protag is easy. But describing the main character always seemed forced. Unless they're wearing glasses that they can take off or a hat that they can wring in their hands, most people don't think of themselves in terms of how blue their eyes are, how skinny their nose, how fat their lips, or how skinny they are. Accessories, like clothing, hats, earrings, etc... are easy, but it's hard to describe physical characteristics without it seeming forced.

  • Andrew Graham
    Andrew Graham 8 months ago

    Really helpful Ellen, thank you.

  • eatsleepplayrepeat
    eatsleepplayrepeat 8 months ago +1

    I have this problem only with my main character.

  • Delta Yoshiro
    Delta Yoshiro 10 months ago +1

    that feel when you hit the bell button and youtube doesn't send you any notifications :l
    glad to see you back :D

  • Rugaru
    Rugaru 10 months ago +1

    One thing to NOT adopt from the harry potter books is her awful habit of being redundent with dialogue tags + an overuse of them. When my mom read me all the harry books, I made her ommit them because they irritated even as a seven year old.

    • LeahMouse
      LeahMouse 6 months ago

      I agree. I don't think anything should be compared with how HP was written. Not that I don't love the world Rowling created, but the books - especially the first - are examples of mediocre writing. I've never found them to be an enjoyable read. Those books aren't popular for the reason of being well-written.

  • Isild
    Isild 11 months ago

    Great video! Thanks for your help, Ellen!
    Do you have any tips for writing multiple protagonists? Like two or three characters with equally important roles and with a common goal?

  • Arc Kocsog
    Arc Kocsog 11 months ago

    It's HP and the Philosopher's Stone. I can't believe they made an American edition with a different title. Do they expect Americans to be so thick?

  • Victor Lima Morais
    Victor Lima Morais 11 months ago +1

    Hey, Ellen! I am from Brazil and I love your tips, they are very succint, yet complete, and they are helping me on my first adventure of writing a book. Thanks, and happy writing everyone.

  • Enzo Rhys Thunderer
    Enzo Rhys Thunderer 11 months ago +1

    ellen, your channel is like a treasure box that i truly don't deserve! i've been learning from you a lot more than from other bimbos who posts videos yet talk about how self-obssesed they were in the entire clip. again, thank, thank you. i improved a lot in my novel writing and editing from what i learned in your videos. kudos!!

  • Mystical Archives
    Mystical Archives 11 months ago +1

    I did something like this with the description for one character in my book's prologue. I knew that she was a widely feared admiral that always wore a specific yet unusual uniform for a field operative and that she is known for using a regular pistol in a world of blasters. As such, when I wrote her introduction, I began by having her shoot a soldier in the head and used that to grab the attention of everyone else and then proceeded to describe her according to the order of how I knew people would observe and study her. They began with the weapon she used since that's what grabbed their attention to begin with, they then transitioned to her odd apparel (picture a blue female naval uniform with a skirt and wedged healed shoes but no hat) and then proceeded to notice her emotionless face and silver blue eyes that were, and I practically quote, "the eyes of a woman who's soul had been crushed." I then moved from their to have the soldiers recognize who she was by her reputation and then begin to freak out, allowing me to express more details and information about some of the things she's done, albeit possibly exagerated.

  • Rickard Samuelsson
    Rickard Samuelsson Year ago +1

    Your videos are a true inspiration, really helps. Do you write anything yourself?

  • Clément Béziat
    Clément Béziat Year ago

    I tried something in the novel i'm currently writing, not describing the MC. I just give some details here and there like "his beard grew thick after these weeks of travel" or "to them, he looked pretty massive" but nothing to specific... And most of the time up to one's interpretation.
    It might not be the best choice (and i might reconsider it along the way) but i find that i and many other rarely remember much of the character in the novels we read. To me, most characters are more defined by their actions than their physical traits so i figured that it's probably not that big of a deal to have a character description mostly up to one's imagination. That being said, every other character get a pretty accurate description.
    Any thoughts ?
    Ps : there might be mistakes, EN is not my first language

  • Enzo Rocha
    Enzo Rocha Year ago

    Subscribed! Love your informative, eye-opening channel. My only ultra small nitpick is I wish you could use a lavelier/lapel mic or maybe spring for a good shotgun. I'm a bit of an audio snob, and the slight echo is a tad distracting. But hey, that's just me, I'm sure everyone came here for the advice and not the audio quality. Keep up the superb content! Incredibly helpful for newbs like me.

  • O Universo Leitor
    O Universo Leitor Year ago +29

    That "pig in a wig" is kinda foreshadowing

    • Brabbel93
      Brabbel93 7 months ago +2

      I also love that it gives us information about Petunia and Harry in the process. By giving us these two descriptions of Dudley we know that Petunia loves her son so much that she is blind to his obesity and we know that Harry despises him AND that Harry is very witty. Instead of being in a (totally understandable) depression due to his abuse, he has a dry sense of humour that we get shown, not told through this little line.
      Lastly, since we got to knew Petunia a bit int he first chapter as a pretty unlikable woman and Harry as the poor orphaned child, we're automatically inclined to agree more with Harry's comparison than Petunia's

  • Michael Ramon
    Michael Ramon Year ago +1

    Hmm... I have the inverse problem as most people here. I provide very little description, particularly of people. Are there any good ways to improve that?

    • Ellen Brock
      Ellen Brock  Year ago

      Little description is not inherently bad. You don't have to include a lot of descriptions if it's not your style.

  • Isheeka
    Isheeka Year ago

    Another super useful video, with great examples. Thanks Ellen :)

  • Apprentice Wizard
    Apprentice Wizard Year ago +17

    I operate under an «always a double meaning» rule. The physical attributes should always tell the reader more than what the character looks like.

    • pRahvi0
      pRahvi0 11 months ago

      Seamless integration is easy with things that are already related. If the description of appearance also gives us clues about other things, it's probably easier to merge it with the description of those other things.

  • SkZBe
    SkZBe Year ago +1

    I found you and I don't regret it! I am decent at describing characters and find it better to do it in parts according to the scene. You have earned yourself a sub!

  • Michael Pelegrino
    Michael Pelegrino Year ago +1

    His eyes were like silver coins in the shade of the night. He put his index finger before his lips--darkened by nicotine, and watched my face for any reaction--there was none. Actually I can't move any muscle. He inched nearer, his nordic nose pressed against my ear; his long dark hair brushing softly on my cheek. Then he said, "I love you." He stepped backward, and looked at me again--his almond shaped eyes now covered in tears. With my dagger and burning disgust towards him and his lies, I pounced towards his irritating face in an effort to at the very least leave a cut he would remember. But he was gone--like a smoke.
    *Is* *that* *acceptable?*

  • Harad - Fantasy Music

    Can you make a video on how to create strong characters while writing in a 1st-person (main character's) point-of-view ? Thanks

  • Big Hard Books & Classics

    Need to read some Joe Hill, me ...

  • Sophia Munari
    Sophia Munari Year ago +1

    Another great video, Ellen. Thank you for the good job!!
    Could you talk about how to describe locations?

  • butchbrittany
    butchbrittany Year ago +1

    My teacher! Thank you!

  • Jon A.
    Jon A. Year ago

    to be fair - i think the real question is what was harry doing/saying to earn himself a punch on the nose??? case in point 2:35 into the video.

  • Write Heroes
    Write Heroes Year ago +1

    Might need to watch this one a few times.

  • Write Heroes
    Write Heroes Year ago +1

    Do a vid on description of the surrounds. That's my weakness.

    • pRahvi0
      pRahvi0 11 months ago

      Make it part of the action and/or other description. And I think it should focus on the things that the character(s) notice(s) (unless you write 3rd person omniscient) and/or are relevant to the story. For example:
      "She tried to keep her thoughts happy by watching the scenery. The sight was, to be honest, not a particularly breathtaking one. Half of the view consisted of a dense forest that surrounded the two houses and their small yards that formed what was called her neighbourhood. The other half was blocked by a dull, grey block of flats, built next to the exactly identical building she lived in. In fact, it was built so near that it was possible to touch the outer wall with a pair of mops tied together into a long staff, which was then held from her window. She knew that the place where half of the device had landed after falling off was still visible in the otherwise perfect lawn. But living in the 5th floor meant she could not see the lawn without opening the window. And opening the window ever again would earn her another month of grounding, as her mom had said yesterday."

  • Jerry Mills
    Jerry Mills Year ago

    You posted your video just in time because I began my novel's final (I hope) revision just last night. Possibly every one of my character descriptions in my novel desperately needs the advice in your video. Thank you very much.

  • Coles Play
    Coles Play Year ago +4

    Killing it with the regular uploads! Great stuff!

  • Jeni L S
    Jeni L S Year ago

    Thank you so much!!!

  • Anime crazy
    Anime crazy Year ago +1

    This is ironic. I just needed a video like this when you posted it

  • Aluko79
    Aluko79 Year ago +1

    Dear Ellen, I found your videos so helpful over the years. Thank you! If you find time, would you, please, make a video, how to handle a dilogue, when there are more than two people talking, so the reader wouldn't be confused? Happy editing, Ellen :)

  • alannothnagle
    alannothnagle Year ago +1

    Thanks, this is very helpful. One technique I sometimes use is to have one character describe another in dialogue. E.g., "Wait, isn't Mary that blond girl in the press office with the lisp who always wears red ribbons in her hair? Who always rides that scooter to work?" It's not always suitable, but it can be a good way of sneaking in some valuable exposition briefly and vividly, making it all seem very natural.

  • Inserat the band
    Inserat the band Year ago

    Should I try to keep all details of a full description in close proximity to each other, or is it OK that the reader may find out something like eye-color, just as an easy example, in a chapter after the character is introduced? I usually find myself spreading out character traits, mostly physical, across many chapters. I do this to find relevant places for better flow, like you were saying to avoid info-dumps.

    • Inserat the band
      Inserat the band Year ago

      Ellen Brock didn't think of it that way, thanks!

    • Ellen Brock
      Ellen Brock  Year ago +3

      The only problem with delaying descriptions of prominent physical traits is that the reader will need to re-imagine the character if they had different features in mind. Usually readers won't re-imagine the character and will stick to whatever image they had initially.

  • Miles Trombley
    Miles Trombley Year ago

    Thank you for those devices.

  • Pax Vobiscum
    Pax Vobiscum Year ago +9

    Another thing about character description is that there seems to be a lot less of it. If you read Jules Verne, you can pretty much draw Captain Nemo. Hair, eyes, nose, lips and all. My favourite description is of Conseil, though: "He had a good head, such as one likes to see on the shoulders of a friend."

    • pRahvi0
      pRahvi0 11 months ago

      I agree. Only characteristics relevant to the plot are described and the rest is left for the reader's imagination. E.g. Harry wearing old clothes that don't even fit and broken glasses (along with the other descriptions, like being punched often) also describes his relationship to the other characters, his motives or other aspects of the the status quo.
      Seamless integration is easy when things are already related.

  • Aphrodite Lee
    Aphrodite Lee Year ago +1

    I truly struggle with this!!! thanks!!!

  • M.L. Bull
    M.L. Bull Year ago

    Great video! I read about how to use setting descriptions to provide information about characters to readers in Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi's book Rural Setting Thesaurus. All their books are really good sources for writers. Using the scene to explain more about characters makes a big difference than listing traits, which I'm practicing more in my writing craft to avoid doing.

  • Heidi Smit
    Heidi Smit Year ago +1

    Dear Ellen, thank you for your time and wonderful advice. It helps me to go back to my work! You are so engaging. I missed last years classes and It feels so good to be back with you and The other participants I hope you are well. You might want to consider a side carreer as a teacher. People will pay good money to have you as a tutor. Best wishes from The Netherlands

  • Purple_Painting_Productions

    I was JUST struggling with this in my story! This is so helpful for the current part I'm on, thank you so much Ellen!

  • a Haraldh
    a Haraldh Year ago +1

    00:02 Yo!

  • Gerel69
    Gerel69 Year ago +26

    Hi.. I recently found you. Boy! I'm glad I did. Lol. You are amazing. I've been writing for years, mostly for roll playing adventures with friends and family. I have been on the fence about, actually, writing my "world" and publishing it. Ellen, your videos have given me the tools and encouragement to pursue my goal of novelization of my stories... Thank you and keep doing what you're doing. Again, you're awesome. :-)

    • Gerel69
      Gerel69 Year ago +2

      aythatsme... Um. I know she's a girl.. "Boy!" is my expression of excitement, when I found HER TheXvid site... But, thank you.

  • DeLyse on Duty
    DeLyse on Duty Year ago +14

    Thank you so much! I needed this video. In fact, I'm about to practice what I've learned from it here in a few minutes 😃

  • Linda
    Linda Year ago +1

    Thanks for your great insights on the topic. To be honest, I think the way that characters look like is not all that important and should never be an author's focus (unless, of course, the character's appearance is determining where the story is heading). Blond or black hair, who cares. I hate it when uninteresting features are repeatedly mentioned.

  • Rashid Williams
    Rashid Williams Year ago +4

    Some can get Really detailish but your right,great job.

  • Cristian Flores
    Cristian Flores Year ago +9

    Your videos have always had excellent content, but the multiple examples from different genres give so much power to your words, it helps materialize your advice and makes it feel like its already been taken, as well as giving book recomendations. Keep up the good work, your impact on aspiring writers is on a magnitude greater than may realize. Sincerely, thank you!

    • Ellen Brock
      Ellen Brock  Year ago +1

      Thank you! That's so nice of you to say. I'm really happy to help.

  • Sehra 123
    Sehra 123 Year ago +1

    Omg thank you so much this really helped me ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

  • Justin Coates
    Justin Coates Year ago +4

    I’m so glad you’re back! I listen to your videos in the car, and they always provide a lot of inspiration for my later work.

  • Andreu Tormos
    Andreu Tormos Year ago +3

    I love your videos, they help lots :D

  • Thessalin
    Thessalin Year ago +56

    As he watched Ellen's video, he rubbed his square masculine jaw and felt his sharp stubble on his rough hands. He caught his steel gray eyes in his long sharp serrated tactical combat knife as he shaved his rugged and manly stubble, which fell into the scorched dirt which still smoldered from his flamethrower. His corded muscles bunched and relaxed under his tribal tattooed skin like snakes fighting for dominance. He snorted cigar smoke out of his angular nose when Ellen changed books. He chuckled like gravel falling from a dump truck. He...
    "Oh come on Cable, really? You're admiring yourself in your tactical combat knife... Does the knife have muscles too? Is your cigar flexing?" Deadpool said rolling his eyes.
    The author realized they were a hack and deleted Cable's introductory character description.

    • Egnato 116
      Egnato 116 Year ago +6

      One hell of a plot twist. Looking forward for the sequel

  • Beep Beep Imma Dragon

    and know lots of color words too like a guy saying his crush is wearing pink and green makes readers think of magenta and lime so eww but if he said coral and mint readers will think that sounds so beachy instead

  • James Wright
    James Wright Year ago

    Ellen, thank you for this video. It is going to help me immensely with my story.

  • Sarah H
    Sarah H Year ago

    Could you do a video on the differences between a short story, novella, and novel?

  • jakerockznoodles
    jakerockznoodles Year ago +1

    This reminds me a lot about a video I watched on film where they explained how many movies will put exposition in an action or chase scene so as not to halt the momentum (and it often works to make the exposition itself feel more exciting or important). Or how some stealth games will dripfeed you information about your target as you get closer to your goal and mix it with warnings about more immediate threats rather than just dumping it all on you at the beginning of a mission.

  • Ricky
    Ricky Year ago +1

    Quality vids these

  • Gustin Lawis
    Gustin Lawis Year ago +1

    Thank you Ellen. I have been following your channel for quite sometimes, and your videos always provide helpful advices.

  • The Code Provider
    The Code Provider Year ago +3

    Your videos are the best as far as writing advice goes. Thanks!

  • RedBeard
    RedBeard Year ago +1

    Great advice as always!

  • 11gingin
    11gingin Year ago +1

    how long have you taken notes on all this stuff

  • A. Connor Parr
    A. Connor Parr Year ago

    As my stories are all very character-driven, character description is something I hope to become better at. I was very glad to see you use examples from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, as it was a childhood favorite of mine and a book that I spent countless hours reading in bed with my mother.

  • Hello Future Me
    Hello Future Me Year ago +75

    Harry Potter was my go-to for good descriptions too! The first few chapters of the Philosopher's Stone are especially well written.

    • Raptor Imperium
      Raptor Imperium 3 days ago

      hello, hello future me

    • Ben West
      Ben West Year ago +2

      Oh my god you watch these too!

    • Andreu Tormos
      Andreu Tormos Year ago +2

      Hello Future Me Hi, glad to see you here. I also watch your On Writing series, hope to see more :)

  • PhoebeWoodWrites
    PhoebeWoodWrites Year ago +7

    Great advice again, which I will definitely keep in mind. Thank you! :)

  • Jojo of Faraway
    Jojo of Faraway Year ago +9

    Sometimes I feel like there is to much I want to describe about a character all at once, so it is better to have it split up into different scenes where it fits better? Because dumping it all at once doesn't sound like a good idea when I end up with half a page of description ^^

    • Jojo of Faraway
      Jojo of Faraway Year ago +2

      Ellen Brock thanks a lot. Yeah I have a slight obsession with character descriptions. I will see how and if I can shorten them and what isn’t as important.
      Your vids are super helpful. Keep up the great work :)

    • Ellen Brock
      Ellen Brock  Year ago +10

      You're probably putting too much emphasis on character description. Try to focus only on what matters to the story. Breaking up descriptions is always a good idea if the descriptions can't otherwise be concise. Hope that helps!

  • Smith
    Smith Year ago +12

    She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak .

  • Jared Jams
    Jared Jams Year ago

    First!