Self-Editing #2: Character Description

   Posted by: Faith   in Creating Coldcuts

Here we are at post #2 in this little series on things to look out for when self-editing. Again, this is in the copyediting stage – not editing for content or rewriting. However, these little things can often make or break your manuscript!

Today we’re looking at…

Character Description in POV

What’s wrong with this?

Jacqueline waltzed into the office, her dark brown hair swishing across the back of her blouse. She dropped her attaché onto the mahogany desk and paused, listening to the sweet sound of employees hard at work.

She glanced at her delicate gold watch. It’s not even nine and they’re already on task. I love Mondays.

Pursing her glossed lips, she pulled her cell from the attaché’s side pocket, flicked it open, and dialed.

First question to ask is: Whose point of view is this?

Second question to ask is: How can the person whose POV we’re in see themselves?Mirror, mirror, on the wall... whose POV are we in, anyway?

Obviously, they can’t – or else I wouldn’t be asking the question – but it’s surprising how often  this pops up in our own writing (mine, anyway). It’s natural for us to want to describe our main character, but it’s unnatural for someone to think “oh, I’m going to brush my long, blonde hair now”. No, you’d think “I’m going to brush my hair”, right? Same for your character.

One way writers try to get around this is the “mirror scene”. You know what that is – that’s where your character stands in front of a mirror and describes himself or herself. Unless you have a darn good reason for doing this (like I’ve said before, there are exceptions to every rule), this is cliché and you want to avoid it like the plague! (Another cliché, don’t use that either…)

Instead, bring out your character’s description through the eyes of another character. Don’t use them to list every detail at once, but bring it out slowly, and only when or if it matters.

When it comes to character description, less is more.

(Unless you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi with created races, and then it’s a whole other ball game entirely. But I’m not getting into that right now…!)

So… have you ever written a mirror scene? Or described the character in her own POV? Don’t be shy, we’ve all done it too.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 at 1:45 pm and is filed under Creating Coldcuts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 comments so far


POV is my second least favourite thing (verb tenses are the worst). I have a chapter (A WHOLE CHAPTER) in “The Stone Thief” that’s written from a different POV than the rest of the story, and I have NO IDEA how to fix it. Mostly, I’ve been ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

August 20th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

When I write first drafts, I’ll sometimes switch back and forth with POVs every so often, just to experiment with voice. Sometimes it helps me… other times it’s just confusing.

August 23rd, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Luckily, I had a “How to write..” book when I was younger, so I’ve never done the mirror. I have made the goof of describing a character when we’re in their pov before. Now I only try to do it when it’s something the reader “has” to know.

August 24th, 2010 at 6:50 pm