When is the last time you stopped to think about the physical appearance of your characters? And how have you conveyed that appearance to your readers, especially that of your 1st or deep 3rd POV characters? I’ve been pondering the best way to do this in my current WIP after realizing that nowhere in the first (and second) draft did I describe Ellen, the main protagonist.
Part of the problem might be that I don’t consciously visualize a character when I’m developing or writing her (or him). I tend to have a very general, nebulous image of the character which only becomes clearer to me as I write her story. By the time I’ve gotten through a few chapters, I have a really clear image of each character. By then, I’m past the point of character introductions. Dropping in a physical description that late in the game is likely to pull the reader out of the experience, especially if she’s been envisioning the character entirely differently.
I develop my mental images of characters in books I’m reading the same way – by learning who they are and what they’re doing. Even when the writer gives a detailed description of her characters, I’m likely to take away only the most fundamental points like hair and eye color, height and size, and anything really remarkable like a scar or a limp. If those descriptions come after I’ve developed my own mental image of the characters, which often happens within the first few pages of meeting them, I’m likely to eschew even those details if they conflict with the picture in my head.
But for most readers, there needs to be some physical description at least of the main characters to help them identify and relate to the people in our stories. They want to know what the author had in mind when she pictured each character. So as the author of My Girls, I owe readers at least some amount of physical description of Ellen, but the first few chapters are in Ellen’s and her best friend’s POVs, respectively. Finding a natural, non-stilted way to have either of them pondering Ellen’s physical description is proving harder than I expected. So, do you have any suggestions for clever ways to work in a character’s appearance when writing from deep in that character’s POV?