You’ve just been hooked into a gripping story line when suddenly it stops and you’re handed a parts list of someone’s face and build. Is that what you want to read at the moment? Do you even want a detailed description or do you want to supply some of your own?
There are things we must know soon, of course. In order of importance: Is your character human, or maybe a rabbit or a lamp post; male or female; Caucasian or otherwise; young or old; fair or dark?
Feed it slowly. A name, will usually tell gender, so will a pronoun. “He poured powder into the muzzle.” What else does that show?
For race, look for something easily attributed to a people: a teepee; a point in geography; a conflict.
Age needn’t be exact but a general idea is important. Is she an eighth-grader; a secretary; a wife; mother; or grandmother. Show it, don’t tell it.
For physical characteristics, comparison is helpful. “He stood in back, so not to block the view of others.” Then, maybe later: “She snuggled her head beneath his chin.”
Use action. Have them doing something that furthers the story. Look to verbs. They show; adverbs and adjectives only tell.
Try these exercises.
- Show a woman’s race through her own viewpoint.
- Show a man’s stature through the viewpoint of another.
- Show a character’s coloring through the dialogue of two other characters.
- Show a man’s age through his own viewpoint.