How do I describe the physical appearance of my main character?

by Chase Foland
(Cocoa Beach, FL)

Question: The point of view is through my main character's eyes. How do I describe what he looks like without doing something as simple as the character looking into a mirror and describing himself. How do I achieve this?


Answer: You are quite right to want to avoid having your POV character describe himself. Unless he is particularly vain, it could easily feel forced.

With a main character, you have less pressure to mention his appearance because he will spend much of the story looking at other characters rather than himself. His appearance will matter most if it affects how other characters treat him (for instance if he is exceptionally good looking, or not good looking, if he attracts attention or doesn't).

You may find opportunities to have other characters mention aspects of his appearance.

Another is to mention traits if and when they ara relevant. For instance, if it is relevant to his personality that he feels self-conscious about being overweight, you might mention his frustration at having to shop at a "big and tall" store.

Try to find occasions where his actions tell us about his appearance. For instance, if we see him going for a morning run or working out in the gym, we can infer that he's in reasonably good shape. If he has to find his glasses when he wakes up, we will know his eyes are poor. If he has to wipe his mustache after eating, we know he has one, etc.

In other words, look for natural opportunities where you can mention traits.

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