September 21st, 2012

Describe thyself, mortal!

One of the issues that I struggle with in writing is physically describing my point of view character. So very many readers come back with “I wish I knew what the protagonist looked like.”

This is a tricky subject. Gazing into a mirror is far too obvious, and will get snarly comments from editors. Switching to another point of view character is an easy habit, but many more of my readers would prefer me to use a single PoV character.

I’ve been googling around on this topic, and the Internet has spoken.
This is hard.

Unfortunately, that’s about all it has to say. The best I’ve got is to let the character interact with themselves in some manner that gives hints. Combing their hair, or tearing it out I guess is more likely in my stories.

In contrast, I was just listening to the Mary Robinette Kowal and others say in The Story Board, Episode 2 that it’s better to not describe the protagonist. That describing the protagonist takes away the reader’s ability to imagine themselves in that role. In doing so, I would need to choose to leave those readers unsatisfied.

If you are a writer, how do you tell the reader about the protagonist, through the protagonist’s eyes? Do you just leave it to the reader’s imagination?

If you are a reader, which do you prefer? Do you find that clearly described characters turn you off?

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