Just as book trends see certain genres fall in and out of favor, there are certain elements of books that once worked but now no longer do.
One such example is the clichéd mirror look, aka when the author has the MC look in a mirror and describe themselves so the reader knows how they look.
Yep, writers used to do this all the time, and when you’re a wannabe writer and you see this trick used in all the big-time published books, it works its way into your own writing.
But there are better options to get the physical description of your main character to the reader, as these 5 ways show…
5 Ways To Describe A Character Without Using The Clichéd Mirror Look
1. Through The Lens Of Other Characters
This of course only works if your book uses multiple POV’s. If it does, have the other characters do the heavy description-lifting and bring your MC to life on the page via their thoughts and observations.
As is the tradition of my blog, we’re going to be using our Jenny and Carla example characters. For what follows, Carla will be our MC and Jenny is our secondary POV character.
Carla was coming toward her now, her auburn curls swept up in the winter breeze and whipping their way across her round face. Jenny could already see the chill adding a pink glow to Carla’s bronzed cheeks, which were pushed high by her gigantic smile.
“Why are you in such a good mood?” How was this the same person who spent last night wallowing in her hot chocolate?
2. Via The POV’s Inner Dialogue/Thoughts
If your only POV is the MC, or you need their physical description to come into play before another character’s POV is used, work the description in with some MC inner dialogue/thoughts.
Orange wasn’t the right color to blend with Carla’s bronzed skin, and the fit wasn’t exactly flattering to her curves. Or my arms. She tugged on the jumper’s right sleeve, sighing when it barely covered half of her long wrist. But Jenny had given her the jumper and would be devastated if she didn’t wear it to her birthday party.
3. Using The Reactions Of Others
If you don’t want to use inner thoughts to spell out every physical description, you can also work it in via the reactions of other characters.
“Carla? Is that you?”
A blond with a chirpy voice squealed in Carla’s ear before she’d squeezed all the way through the front door.
“Yes?” she tried to place the excited face staring at her but couldn’t.
“You look amazing! That jumper goes perfectly with your auburn hair!”
My hair? “Ahh, Lola. From the hair salon downtown, right?”
4. Describing Family Traits
Another great way to slip your MC’s description in is by having them describe their family traits.
Carla had towered over her mother since she was eleven, which was unusual since everyone else in her family was on the short side. She and her mom still shared the same eye color, though. Bright green with flecks of gold that always got them compliments.
5. With Physical Actions
One final tip for getting some character description into your sentences is by using physical actions. Here, we learn about the height of both Jenny and Carla.
Jenny rose on her tippy-toes to reach the good glasses at the back of the cupboard and swung the door open so wide she almost hit Carla in the face.
“Sorry. Maybe you should have gotten the glasses. You don’t need a ladder to reach anything above bench-level in this kitchen.”
Carla grinned, her long arm effortlessly reaching for the inner cupboard. “You know I’m always happy to help you shorties out.”
As you can see, there are lots of fun ways to add character descriptions without a cliché in sight.
Done with the right wording, your readers will effortlessly put together a picture in their mind without being pulled off the page by your MC stopping to look in a mirror. Try it the next time you work on your WIP, and if you have any of your own sneaky character description tips, be sure to share them in the comments!
— K.M. Allan