I sent out a Newsletter the other day telling you guys that I’m open for questions! I said I would answer your writing-related questions in dedicated posts of their own if possible.

This is the first one of those posts!

 

This question comes from Dheep Matharu:

“How do you tackle introducing new characters and describing their physical appearance without infodumping.  Often, with my work, I feel it interrupts the flow, when the rest of the book is intended to be not particularly descriptive.”

 

This is probably one of the toughest problems out there.

You have this picture in your head of your protagonist; from what they look like to all their mannerisms. A well-made protagonist will be a character that instantly draws you into the story. So of course, you want to fill the pages with all the details of that character in order for your reader to feel it to!

Don’t.

Trust me, you don’t want to infodump any details of any character. Your readers will get overwhelmed with the information and likely not remember any at all because of it. It also looks like sloppy writing.

So how do you avoid it? How do you show the character, but avoid infodumping?

There are three different methods you could use.

 

Intersperse:

You need to take all the information and scatter it throughout the chapter (or multiple chapters if necessary). Instead of a paragraph listing what they look like and what kind of person they are, have them do something and describe a few details as you’re going along. Or have it woven into the narrative.

In other words, every detail you list should be justified by what’s happening or what the character is thinking/feeling.

For example…

Don’t do:

 

“He had black hair, brown eyes, and freckles on his nose. He stood about six feet tall with a slim frame and wide shoulders. A scar ran across his forehead and one of his ears had a bite out of it.”

 

Instead, do:

 

“He shrugged off his thick jacket; its black matching that of his hair. Had he really said that to his father? It was hard to believe he had it in him. The anger he saw in his father’s brown eyes, so much like his own, was worth all the punishment he would get. Not that he feared punishment. The scar on his forehead and the missing part of his left ear could attest to his familiarity with his father’s ‘discipline’.

He sat down on the bed. Without the jacket his thin features stood out like an ugly label. ‘Poor!’ read the bold letters etched into the pale skin that clung to his ribs and joints. It was thanks to the width of his shoulders that the jacket seemed to be the right size for him. Nobody suspected a thing; and if they did, they never showed it.”

 

See how there’s a reason for every detail? It’s not a list because the narrative is woven with it. His black hair is mentioned because it matches his black jacket. His brown eyes are mentioned because they’re like his father’s. His scars are mentioned because of the punishment he expects.

You get the idea, right?

 

Cut:

You mentioned that the heavy detailing of your infodump is also a problem because it doesn’t match the rest of the book. I assume by that that you mean your book isn’t necessarily description-heavy?

If that’s the case, you might have to do something painful, but necessary.

You’ll have to cut some details. It will be difficult taking the knife to your character, but it’s something that has to be done. If the majority of your book is light on details, you definitely don’t want to tackle the reader with a lot of it. The change in pace could be so jarring that the reader might do the unthinkable.

They might put the book down.

For example…

Don’t do:

 

“He had black hair, brown eyes, and freckles on his nose. He stood about six feet tall with a slim frame and wide shoulders. A scar ran across his forehead and one of his ears had a bite out of it.”

 

Instead, do:

“He shrugged off his thick jacket; its black matching that of his hair. His brown eyes echoed the anger of his father’s. As he sat down, his thin frame seemed even smaller without the thick jacket.”

 

This is a very minimalist approach, so be aware of the style when you use it.

Figure out what the most important details are, and cut them out. Maybe you can mention them later, but it’s best to get rid of them for now.

This brings me to my next point…

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Focus:

The first technique I showed you works well in stories with moderate levels of description. The second is what you’ll want to do in stories with a low amount of description. This method, however, is a combination of both and is used quite often.

Take two or three different characteristics of the protagonist/character and emphasize them. Basically, you’ll want to mention them regularly throughout the story in order to get them ingrained in your reader’s mind.

Then take any other details you deem important enough and sprinkle them throughout. Just mention them once or twice and move on. Emphasize the important and briefly mention the rest.

This way you get all your details in, but keep the important ones highlighted.

No examples for this one as it’s a method that gets implemented over a longer segment of a book than just a page or so. If you want to see how it’s used, I recommend reading the Wheel of Time series. Robert Jordan uses this method a lot.

 

I hope that my answer helped you, Dheep.

Now bear in mind that this is only for the introduction of characters. You should constantly be reminding your readers of these features throughout the book (one feature at a time of course, not in the same way as when you introduce the character). Don’t just describe then move on completely, because readers will forget.

If you guys would like your questions answered, subscribe to the Newsletter! I will be sending out these Q&A letters on a semi-regular basis, so don’t miss this chance!

If you’d like your questions answered by more than just one person, ask them in our Facebook discussion group!

 

Which method do you use to introduce characters?

Let me know in the comments below!

 

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

The Problem With Infodumping

Wring: Flashbacks

Writing Is More Than Just An Art

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