A while ago, someone commented that they liked how I don’t spend a lot of time describing my characters in my books because it’s like I said, “They look like this,” and I just don’t care to keep describing. They meant it as a good thing, and I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but it got me thinking about writing a blog post, so here it is.
There are many different approaches to description in writing. There are schools of thought on being incredibly descriptive, to put your readers there in the book with your characters, and there are people who don’t like that approach as readers (or writers) and choose a more minimalist approach.
I’d say, I’m typically on the minimalist side of things as a writer and usually, as a reader, unless the writer’s use of description is just so damn good, I can’t help but be hooked by it. There are only a few examples of this for me, though, because generally, I find it verbose and sometimes, unnecessary. I do like it when a writer is creating another world entirely because I like to try to figure out what the heck I’m supposed to be looking at. But if they’re writing about a café where the characters have coffee, unless there’s something new or cool about it, most cafes are somewhat the same, so I don’t mind if they skip the description. The reason I’m okay with it as a reader is that I like to imagine the café myself.
As a writer, I tend to only really describe things when I feel like it’s important to the story. For example, in The Fire, I describe the fire in great detail. In All Good Plans, I describe Cassie getting shot in detail. In my Tahoe Series, I often describe the landscape in detail to help the reader orient themselves.
When it comes to my characters though, I slowly went from feeling like I needed to really describe them in some of my earlier books to not describing them much at all. I typically give them hair color and eye color and occasionally, I’ll describe their height if it’s relevant or maybe their nose or something if I feel like I need to. I started doing this not out of laziness but because of a couple of things:
I liked the idea of letting readers decide what the characters look like in their own minds as they read.
I was once told that I write predominantly “white” characters, and we all know that many romance writers have the so-called “gorgeous” characters that leave you wondering, “Where are all these incredibly hot women these writers make up, because I’m not sitting at a bar having like, fifteen of them walk up and ask to buy me a drink like they always do in these books?”
Here’s what’s interesting: when I was told that, I’d stopped really describing my characters at length a long time ago. Meaning, for the most part, you get hair color and eye color only. So, this character had black hair and brown eyes. Another character was blonde with green eyes, and so on, and so on. I very rarely describe the character’s skin tone or anything to that effect, and I’ve only called attention to a couple of characters’ backgrounds. For example, in Finding a Keeper, Sloan is mixed-race, and it’s part of the story. In Love Forged, Flynn is half-Cuban, and that’s part of the story. Other than that, I don’t tend to say much. The reason is that I hope people can fill in the blanks with what they feel these characters look like.
When it comes to the gorgeous romance character aspect, I do have some characters – in particular, in my Celebrities Series, who are models, actresses, singers, and Hollywood beautiful, and a few other characters you might define that way as well – but the majority of my characters, I don’t describe that way. I tell the reader they’re beautiful through the other characters saying so. This means that beauty is in the eye of the reader. What do you find to be beautiful? I have so many characters that I don’t describe as long and lean, or thin, skinny, with a perfectly symmetrical face, or long legs. Those things might be considered beautiful in Hollywood or to some people, but to others, they’re not. If you read one of my books and you see a character in your mind, what do they look like? Does it really matter to you?
There is no worldwide standard to beauty, despite what we see in magazines, movies, on billboards, and on runways. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, feel free to describe my characters in your own mind. Make them as relatable to you, as beautiful to you as you want.