Planning out and writing character descriptions

When I first started writing, I’d see all the lists of character descriptions and traits that are recommended to have charted out before writing. Some of them looked neat. I’d have filled some out for one or two characters then give up. 

Trying to define every trait down to a tee became not only tedious, but another way to avoid writing. 

I’ll tell you a secret. Out of 15 main and supporting characters in my last book, I make note of the physical descriptions of about four of them. One of those character descriptions is a single mention of them having silver eyes. That’s it.

If you were to ask me what the others look like, I could probably tell you the race, gender, and approximate age, but that’s about all. (Okay, I’ll be brutally honest again, usually, the only thing I’m 90% or more sure of is gender.)

This is the way I write.

For most of my characters, I could care less what they look like unless another character would notice, or most likely, make a joke about it. 

(Yeah, those character descriptions above, I couldn’t complete even half of them for a quarter of my characters.)

While having everything planned out is an enjoyable task that levies a feeling of making progress in writing a book. It isn’t. Progress in writing isn’t made from this.

This used to be a bit of a sore point for me. When I read a book that offers immersive descriptions and can describe in detail what a character looks like, I’ll admit, I get a little jealous. Followed by me comparing my own descriptions of things and being sorely disappointed at what I see.

What changed my point of view on this was actually a video about Soft vs. Hard World-building. The video compares the way Tolkien world-builds, through detail and immersion, and the way Ghibli Studio and Hayao Miyazaki creates them, through minimal detail and inviting imagination. Both produce fantastic results but use a completely different method.


I love and admire Tolkien’s writing, but as much as I tried, I could never capture that much immersive detail.

Though world-building is obviously different creating a character design, the point can be expounded out.

As writers, it can be hard to see a beautiful style, especially a popular one, and compare it to your own. Even if your style is similar, the differences will be dramatic.

Of course, this is the style that works for me. If Tolkien-esque detail works for you, more power to you.

If not, don’t let that get in the way of writing. The only wrong way to write is to not.

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