Here’s an interesting question about first person character description and how to write character descriptions from Anne:
I’m looking for how to write character descriptions of first person narrators in clever ways. It’s just so awkward to have people describe their own looks. I’ve heard that editors are sick of the old “I stared in the mirror” approach. I’ve used the self-effacing “I wish I were better looking” approach to first person character description, but that too seems overdone.
Most First Person Character Description Sounds Awkward
I have to admit, when I read some bad character self-description in a manuscript, it makes me wince. Never in my life have I, for example, “examined my dark brown locks in the mirror, giving my tall frame a once-over, and wishing, for once, that my blue-green eyes would just pick a color and stick with it.” Who thinks like that?
The obvious problem is, of course, that we may think like this if we were seeing ourselves for the first time, but most of us are very familiar with what’s in the mirror. In this case, I feel like we’re all expecting the contrived, super unique self-description, and we’re already groaning about it. How to write character description that sounds natural in first person POV?
Stop Trying So Hard, Deliver It, and Move On
What you can do instead is stop trying to make the character’s self-description into a creativity moment and just tell us the details that we need to know.
“I swatted a clump of black hair out of my eyes and ran down the field,” or whatever.
Don’t be too precious about it, don’t put physical description in dialogue unless you can get it to sound organic (none of this “But gosh, that skirt looks really great with your hazel eyes” stuff, that doesn’t sound like authentic speech, we would just say “your eyes” because both characters know what color they’re referring to), and don’t think this is your big opportunity to revolutionize first person character description. (Another thing to think about is getting too “third person” for character description in first person.)
Less is definitely more when it comes to how to write character description, so just tell us (yes, you can tell and not show in this case) and move on. That’s what I say. This is a frustrating question because I’ve seen it done very poorly, and most likely not noticed when it’s done really well, and would just rather have the necessary details out of the way. I’m guessing your character’s look isn’t the most important thing about the story, so all we need are a few details peppered in.
Working on characterization is hard without a second set of eyes. Hire me as your manuscript editor and I can help you hone in on your protagonist.