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Windows to the Soul


Today we look at character descriptions.

What do appearances say about a character's personality?

Quite a lot, actually. Authors use descriptions as an easy way of giving the reader a first impression of a character without having to go into any particular effort.

Cicero once said that "the face is a picture of the mind," and this can be true, especially in books or movies. Authors generally want to give you as much information as possible about their characters (unless they're deliberately hiding things) and will use the opportunity to describe their character's appearance to their advantage.

Look at this extract from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone, where Hagrid is described:

A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.

This is J.K.Rowling's opportunity to give the reader a first impression of Hagrid, and she does it by giving the reader an image of the character.

  • "A giant of a man," suggests perhaps there is something paranormal about him. Perhaps his size is intimidating.
  • "Shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard," show that he is quite rough and wild.
  • Eyes "glinting like black beetles," connotate animals, which are later revealed as his passion.
So a lot is learned from character description. But how do you use this as an author?
Let's look at eyes for a start, with anime as a guide.

  • The angle of the eyeline conveys how firm/gentle the character is.
  • Eyes shaped like (> <) tend to hint at aggressive, cynical personality, whereas eyes like (< >) show nativity and empty-headedness.
  • Thin eyebrows tend to show a quieter, more gentle disposition than those with thick eyebrows.
  • The positioning of the eye also affects what the reader thinks of the character. The lower down the face they eyes are, the more childlike the character looks.
  • Eyes with larger pupils are generally more "innocent."

Color can vary, but certain eye colors have certain connotations.
  • Red - evil or passionate (e.g. Ultron, the Avengers)
  • Green - magical or evil (e.g. Harry Potter, Harry Potter)
  • Brown - trustworthy (e.g. Margo, Despicable Me)
  • Light blue/gray - a bit creepy, like they can see through your soul, serious (e.g. Athena, PJO)
  • Yellow - sneaky, probably a werewolf (e.g. Tykebomb, Discworld)
  • Purple - magic, possibly darker, rare (e.g. Zanna, The Last Dragon Chronicles) 
How do you apply this in your story? Obviously not by writing "Dave had thin eyebrows and downwards slanting eyes low down his face. His irises were dark blue."
Use your description skills. Insinuate your image of the character. Don't write, "He had grey eyes."
"his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars",
-Tolkein, LOTR, a description of Elrond

Add atmosphere. Use your descriptions as an opportunity for the readers to get the feel of the character as well as their appearance.

There's a lot more to cover when it comes to character description, but I hope this has taught you something about either inferring from what you read or describing your own characters.


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