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Gabriel Started It, and I Am Just Tossing Gas Onto The Fire


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Greetings All:

Gabe really got me thinking about the character development process, but this is related to the actual exposition within the story structure. I will try to be succinct in the question:

How much of the character description should be left up to the reading audience?

In this respect I mean the physical description. I dumpster dive into characters' internal worlds pretty well, but I find one of my greatest weaknesses occurs when actually describing the characters physically. I do have an idea of what s/he looks like since I do a verbal character sketch. However, I tend to shy away from fleshing out the description in the story. I just sort of toss in a detail here and there along the way. This bothers me from time to time because I am not certain if I am doing a service to the story by allowing the reader to create an image in their heads to suit their needs, or if I am short-changing the audience.

Any thoughts on this?


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i tend to be of the school that assumes the reader is better at making up a picture of the character in their head than i am on the paper. I give 'em a few details in the body of the story, then let them sort it out. What makes the story good is what the character thinks, feels and does, not how they look.


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What immediately sprang to mind is the phrase A picture is worth a thousand words.

I personally do not like photo's of fictional characters being provided by authors, though I don't mind pictures on the covers of the hard/paper back books I own. I think this is because a drawing still leaves the impression that the characters are fictional, while a photo creates an internal conflict on this point.

I think a thousand words to describe what a person looks like is largely a waste of time and effort, on both the writer and readers behalf. As you said in another thread, every sentence should advance the story in some respect. Unless the description has some impact on the story, I prefer to read just enough to get a feel for the character, and fill in the blanks in my own mind.

For example, Jimmy in your The Last Word is described as being fat. This is a very relevant part of his description as it comes into play in quite a places in the story. Items, such as Rory's muscle tone, however are not mentioned, because they just don't add anything (at least so far in the story).

On the principle of full disclosure, I will admit that I personally have trouble describing people. Since I started writing, I have been looking at people, and trying to work out how to put in words what they look like. So far I have largely failed, unless I go through an incredibly boring sequence of descriptions that still probably doesn't match the reality. On that basis, I prefer to leave descriptions to the salient points, plus enough to put the person in context (eg. rough height, build/weight, age, hair colour). If it's first person, I may also indicate whether or not the narrator finds them attractive.

All my opinion only, of course.


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My two cents on a character's physical description:

Describe things a bit at a time, so it isn't like reading a driver's license.

Describe the most important features soonest, and fill in the details later. I say this because as a reader, it's annoying to get toward the end of the novel and find the main character you've been imagining with dark hair is actually a redhead and had another important feature or two that completely trashed my mental image of the character. I forget which author did that, but he should've known better.

It isn't necessary to get too detailed, but a phrase here and there should tell the readers what they need to know. That should flow out of the situation as the story unfolds. The description of their looks goes with their physical expressions (face, body language) which should amplify the story.

I prefer to imagine the character from what the author gives me. So my idea of what he looks and sounds like is what I as a reader bring to it. I remember hearing people who grew up with radio programs say the same thing.

So I don't like photos, because those are real people, who (along with their agents) might not appreciate the photo being used. An illustration that someone draws or paints, is a little better. Basically, I'd prefer to stick with the author's idea of the character, if the author has, er, authorized an illustration, or if the author's done some nice illustrations.

And with all respect to several actors, they just aren't who I picture when I read a book like Shane or Dune. By the same token, I can't imagine anyone else but the actors as the original Star Trek crew.

My advice is, look back at books by authors you admire and see how they do anything. Why did they do it that way? Keep one eye on the story for enjoyment, and another on how and why the author did what he or she did, if you can. -- That advice comes from other writers on how they learned to write well.

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Guest rusticmonk86

. . . Photos?

It's one thing to base a charecter's appearance off of someone you actually know. But it's a completely different thing to base the charecter off some picture you found from the internet.


The whole magic behind art is the imagination. Why are you even thinking about robbing the readers of that? Much less yourself?

But ssing pictures to save the time you would have used to create your own charecters and have a better understanding of them for yourself . . . . It's like adding some pepper to a store bought sauce and then claiming the fame for making it. And, besides, the store bought shit never tastes as good, anyway.

What about scars? Do your charecters have any scars? Tatooes, piercings? How do they walk? How do they stand? What's their posture like?

What can those things say about the character?

Can you tell someone is tired by their body language? How about by their eyes. Do they unconsciouslly touch part of their bodies (like their hair)? Does that give you an excuse to write a description of their jewelry or hair style of clothing style?

That's an easy way to describe your charecter without actually giving them a thorough, exact description. Or making it come off like you?ve just A/S/L?d them.

Joey was a strapping 19 year old boy. He was 6?1? with blonde hair, blue eyes, a six pack and a 9.5 inch, uncut cock.

And . . . always, ALWAYS give the reader a first-impression of the charecter. What do you notice first? What is the charecter doing? How is the person feeling? What's their motivation?

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Guest rusticmonk86
Hi all,

I thought that i should register on the forums and say my little bit. Mainly i want to thank all the bidding authors who contribute to this site. I love your stories and the way you guys express the deep and meaningful love between the characters.

I can only dream of such a relationship but i am closeted, so I depend on your stories to keep my dreams alive.

I am amazed at my emotions after reading some of the chapters that you gifted writers submit.

I just hope that you never get tired of writing, as its a gift that not everybody has.

Keep up the good work.


Edited by blue as admin, to add quote tag for clarity.

Do you think skeeter really cares about what a charecter looks like anyway?

This is our audience.

We write about love and feeling and how people deal with them. If you all wrote anything other than gay love stories, you wouldn't be here.

I know a lot of you write for the fans. Or for yourself as someone younger. Or for yourself right now. That way you can help deal with the shit that's going on in your life.

Kids like these don't need to know exactly what your charecters look like. It might even be better if they could just imagine the strapping boy with blonde hair as the boy in his english class.

Thanks Skeeter, for your post.


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Hallo all,

I've been lurking here a few days, enjoying reading everybody else's thoughts and opinions, and I've finally decided to respond.

I feel that character descriptions are extremely important. I mean -- when I think of Harry Potter, I see a scar-faced boy with those glasses and green eyes; when I think of Gandalf, I see a forceful old wizard with a staff and a hat. These are physical descriptions that help define the character. But JK Rowling didn't dive into the details of Harry's musculature and we don't know Gandalf's eye color.

Similarly, when we think of our friends and acquaintances and enemies, we don't mentally generate a list for each of them -- we never think, 'Oh, person X, he's the guy who's 5' 6", has muscles like so and so, with a penis this long.' In fact, I don't know how tall most of my friends are, besides taller than me, shorter than me, much taller, midget.

What I do notice is salient features. If I met someone with a very strong air of confidence, that's the first thing I'd notice, and the first thing I'd put down in a character description. If the most conspicuous feature of a person is shocking blue hair, I'd put that down as well. It's all about first impressions.

It also depends on the mindset of the character from whose perspective the story is being told. If the guy is really horny, I think it would be safe for him to notice things like, 'Wow, sexy legs, nice arms, mmm'. But if he's really nervous, he'd probably think, 'Dang, he looks really confident... He seems really prepared...'

Of course, first impressions can change, and one can notice things later on.

I agree with Gabriel that sometimes, the descriptions should be left unsaid, so that the character might apply to anyone the reader wishes. But the character has to be alive enough to transcend physical anonymity.

I don't like photos, either. Photos are too specific, and I'm almost always disappointed when I see a photo of a character and think, 'Oh, he looks like that? I thought his nose was a bit bigger...' Or something. But photos are good if the character is weak enough that the reader hasn't generated a solid picture in his or her head.

So there goes my very long two cents.


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Welcome, dcorvus. You've hit an important point: We usually notice something right away about a new person's personality and some general physical features.

And what Gabe wrote about what readers want from the stories -- absolutely.

In fact, that's the key to what kept me inventing imaginary scenes as a teen, and what kept me reading gay fic online when I found it. It was the utterly simple idea that somewhere out there were people who wanted the same things I wanted: a friend to share love with, who happens to be of the same sex. I wanted stories that showed that was possible.

Descriptions of their detailed physiques or even of wild, hot sex weren't what I was looking for. Sure, it was nice to read about sometimes, I won't pretend not. But too often it got into stuff I wasn't sure I'd like to do. More importantly, it tended to remind me that the guys in the story were doing something I wasn't, but wanted to, and thus my enjoyment was lessened.

And because I'm a reader anyway, I wanted a story with real plot and character depth, not just some formulaic pseudo-story for a quickie.

So, do I expect everything to be all happy and wonderful? No. That wouldn't be real. I want real. Reading how the characters deal with that helps me deal with things and occasionally even solve a question.

One more thing: Yeah, if it's that nice guy in English class or your best friend, cool. Notice that I usually imagined someone. It avoided disappointment, or confusing my overactive imagination with what that friend might really think about. So I'd usually go with the character as described in the story.

Um, I seem to have drifted into talking about me and my issues. I hope I'll get past that nonsense. But maybe my comments will strike a chord with someone.


Oh, and skeeter? Hey, you made us stop and think some. Thanks. Like Gabe said so well, your response is why so many of us read or writer or edit stories like these. I hope you won't be embarrassed at the attention. Maybe you noticed several of us liked what you had to say. Keep it up.

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  • 1 year later...

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