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I am writing a novel and I realized that I did not describe any of my characters, like practically, no reader would be able to place or imagine the character which I feel is not right. That is why I am placing the question to know if it is necessary to describe them.

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    No, simply because there are several stories that don't have a physical description of their main characters
    – A.bakker
    Jan 10, 2023 at 15:21
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    no reader would be able to place or imagine the character Don't worry on that score, all your readers will place / imagine your characters in some way satisfactory to their reading of the story. All different to one another and to any physical appearance you might have imagined for them yourself. Jan 10, 2023 at 16:10

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No.

It is not necessary. If you feel no need to do so, your reader will probably not feel the need to hear. They'll just make a picture in their head, and it really doesn't matter what colour your heroine's hair is, does it?

It's literature. We relate to the characters based on what they say and do (or think and feel if we have access to their inner monologue), not what they look like.

But one thing I don't like as a reader is if a character is described late. I visualise things strongly when I'm reading, and if you tell me the hero's hair is curly after I've been imagining it as straight for 200 pages, I'm not happy.

So if I may, I'd very much like if you either described their appearance as they enter the scene for the first time, or never. I mean, of course you can add details that wouldn't be apparent to the POV observer sooner, but things they couldn't not notice, please don't.

Unless, of course, you're making a point with it. But then let it be a point worth the unpleasant dissonance.

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  • I've read a book series where a character was described early, when it looked like he was just one unimportant character amongst a group of ten interchangeable characters; everyone of these characters was described and I just didn't care about their descriptions (all characters appearing in the series were described and the descriptions were pretty boring and forgettable in general). Later, this particular character became central to the story. Many books later, it was mentioned again that this character had always had a shaved head with a Mohican cut. Made me pretty unhappy.
    – Stef
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:47
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In my experience, most characters come with some description, and most readers want some description. The best descriptions are those that make each word pull double duty.

A basic description, like: She had long black hair and a very straight nose. She wore blue jeans and a leather jacket, is sort of a one-dimensional approach. Those twenty words paint the character's appearance but you don't really know much about her and she'll probably be wearing a different outfit tomorrow anyway.

Descriptions that do more than paint a picture are what I more typically see in trade published books. This can mean drawing on the details that convey emotion or more of the character, it can mean showing movement, advancing plot, etc. She had changed into a ninja-style catsuit and was tucking hair under a dark hat. Determination lined her face. "Ready?"

These examples are off the top of my head, but the best writing often engages the senses of the reader. Writers can pull in visual cues, especially those that accomplish a second goal, to this end. Don't forget the other senses, but visual is the dominant one in most books. Not just for the characters, either.

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Not describing any of the characters at all is going to hinder a non-trivial proportion of readers' sense of immersion. Not necessarily critically - but given the (relatively) low effort needed to provide some rough cues on the general appearance of at least the major characters I would argue that it's well worth doing. Readers can often get quite well realised views on what a character looks like even if the text's description is essentially some adjectives that allow the reader to fill in their own interpretations, e.g. describing a character as "beautiful" or "handsome" is going to lead the reader to assign that character an appearance in keeping with their own preferences of what a person with those attributes that looks like to them. Describe someone in exacting detail however and then tell the reader that they are good-looking and all you're really doing is projecting your own preferences that the reader may or may not share.

Additionally there can be valid circumstances where it's desirable to deliberately avoid giving the reader direct descriptions for certain characters - Stephanie Meyer for example intentionally avoided describing the character of Bella in the Twilight novels so as to encourage the reader to subconsciously place themselves in the role, something that would have been obstructed by descriptions the defined her as different from the reader.

Really what you describe or deliberately don't describe, for characters can all be used to guide the reader into thinking or feeling a particular way about character, so that's an extremely useful tool for the author that you shouldn't ignore.

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No, it is not necessary to give a physical description of your characters.

Frankly I find that many authors rely way too much on physical descriptions of their characters. Those descriptions are boring and unnecessary more often than not. If your characters have memorable personalities, then the readers will have no issue picturing them, and your physical descriptions will only come in the way of the reader's imagination.

On the other hand, if the lack of physical descriptions makes it hard for the reader to distinguish the characters, because the characters also lack distinct personalities and roles in the story, then you have an issue. But the issue is not the lack of physical descriptions.

We live today in a society which is dominated by flashing images. TV, cinema, advertisement everywhere, short videos on social media. We've already seen all the images. Describing whether your character is wearing a tee-shirt or a shirt or a pullover, and has long blonde straight hair or short dark curly hair, is going to do nothing for the reader's emotional engagement. We've see all haircuts and all clothing styles already.

But there are lot of things that you can describe that are much more interesting than hair colour. You can talk about the subjective feelings that one character's appearance arouses in the other characters. Does your character project authority and self-confidence, or self-doubt? Does the character stand out from the crowd? Etc. These non-visual descriptions can be extremely engaging, and they stimulate the reader's imagination instead of confining it to a boring colour and shirtstyle. They are also much more memorable. If you list every character's hair colour when they're first introduced, not only does it run the risk of getting in the way of the story's pace, but the reader will not remember all those lists of hairstyles anyway.

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