Appearance is everything – or is it? How much character description should a writer give?

Great thoughts on character description!

Helena Fairfax

Another month, another authors’ Round Robin. And another through-provoking question in our writers’ group…

helena fairfax, freelance editor, fiction editor

What do you define in your writing about your characters and what do you leave to the reader’s intuition? Is there anything you never tell about a character?

There’s a LOT to these questions but they got me thinking in particular about how much – or how little – detail writers need to give about a character’s physical appearance in order for readers to develop their own mental picture.

What constitutes a ‘good picture’? Does the reader need to ‘see’ a character in exactly the same way the author has imagined her? What if the reader’s picture is totally different from the author’s? Does it matter?

Take Anna Karenina, for example. How do you picture her? Do you think of Keira Knightley in the 2012 film version? Or maybe the fabulous Vivien Leigh in the 1940s’…

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