"Turning to face him I smile and playfully roll my eyes. That’s when I notice that everyone else had come too. Thalia was in her work outfit, a jumpsuit and white tee underneath. Her brown hair and blonde highlights a mess as it usually was when she got off.
Niara was sheepishly in the back, wearing a maxi skirt and tank top with beads around her waist. Her hair naturally sat as an afro with two braids in front also decorated with beads.
Dante was already at the counter ordering. His messy wolf cut easily visible as he turned around and smiled at me. His lightly tanned skin and small trimmed mustache and scruff on his chin were now visible. I also notice the pin on his jacket with the flag of the Philippines, his home country.
Then, of course, Jaime whose hair was a mix of curly and straight due to his heritage of black and El Salvadorian. His hair was long enough to cover his eyes, which I still don’t understand how he could see through it. His skin was brown and littered with tattoos, both professional and homemade. "
I want this to be the introduction to most of the characters, but I don’t want it to be super out of nowhere. Does this sound choppy?
Honestly, yeah, this seems really abrupt and unnatural. I recommend thinking more naturally about the scene, about who the character is seeing for the first time, what they have time to notice, and what they care about.
Turning to face him, I smile and playfully roll my eyes. That’s when I notice that everyone else had come, too. I recognize Thalia since I had just met her yesterday, and she’s still wearing her orange jump suit. Even though she’s smiling, she’s joined by three or four other people who are all looking unhappy to be here.
I think it would help if you gave us more information on what the characters are currently doing while our MC is looking at them or how they are reacting to this inspection. Thalia, for example, is only described appearance-wise whereas Niara is just simply referred to as “sheepishly in the back”.
The descriptions of Dante and Jaime, to me, feel more lively because they offer up more details (skin color, heritage, things that feel specific and personal like the flag pin or the tattoos) but the impression I get from them remains largely static. Maybe describe your characters’ body language, and certain mannerisms or give them something to do that tells us about their personality.
Niara, for example, could try to keep her hands busy if she’s nervous. Dante, on the other hand, is already standing at the counter. You could characterize him by making him react to the person he just ordered from (is he gesturing at them to hurry up or does he charm them?) or by later describing what exactly he ordered for himself or for others in case that is somehow relevant.
They’re friends and have known each other for years though. I just don’t know how to word it
You’re right. I only described thalia appearance wise because she’s introduced in the beginning by being the mc’s roommate. I’ll try to work on Niara too though!
If this is a group that knows each other well, then maybe show that. Like instead of having the MC notice everyone else had come, have it start something like…
Turning to face him, I smile and playfully roll my eyes. He takes no offense–we have known each other too long for that. We all have.
The thought draws my gaze across the room, where Thalia has already claimed a table for us.
“I guess they’re still trying to work her to death,” he (whoever the first he was) says. “I know how much she hates her work clothes.”
Then, keep going from there with the descriptions. Thalia could be animatedly jabbering at a quiet Niara, Niara’s braids bouncing as she nods her head. Maybe the MC nudges the guy toward the counter, where Dante is ordering already, while Jaime heads to join the other two. That way, you can describe their appearance, but also drop some info about them in the process (group dynamics, who is quiet, who is loud, blah blah blah).
Agreed. If the viewpoint character has known these people a long time, they wouldn’t take note of usual hair styles, skin colors, or clothing, only things that are different than usual. Maybe someone’s got a sunburn or a deep tan if they just got back from a vacation, or they’ve shaved their head if they’ve gone through a rough break up and everyone’s feeling awkward about it and trying not to call attention to it.
Don’t feel like you have to give a physical description of every character all at once. You can just say, “I see Thalia, with her big smile, followed by Dante, Jaime, and Niara following sheepishly behind them as always.” And then unspool details about them as the story goes. Just try to see the world through the viewpoint character’s eyes, and note what they note.
Now I’m thinking of how interesting it might be to read a short story—a Memento-like noir perhaps?—from the perspective of someone with face blindness who can only recognize people by way of things like clothing and hairstyles, who wouldn’t recognize their own family members if they ran into them in a grocery store. Might go something like, “I recognize Thalia from her work outfit and messy hair. A young man, I think, smiles at me like he knows me, so I pretend that I recognize him until I see the Philippino flag on his lapel and realize it must be Dante. He must have gotten a new haircut.”
I actually have an idea for a novel about a character with prosopagnosia that I’ve been playing around with inside my head for some time, although it’s a YA romantic comedy.
Does this sound better?
"Turning to face him I smile and playfully roll my eyes. That’s when I notice that everyone else had come too. Thalia was in her work outfit, a jumpsuit, and a white tee underneath. Her brown hair and blonde highlights were a mess as it usually was when she got off. Followed behind her was Niara who she was animatedly talking to and complaining about work.
Niara was sheepishly agreeing and nodding along with her causing her afro to bounce with her. I look a bit further back and recognize Dante from the Philippines pin on his jacket. He was trying to order but was getting a bit agitated as the cashier wasn’t paying attention to him and was chatting with a line cook.
Then of course Jaime who was in front of me, smiled wide at me, causing his gap to show.
I’d say try and introduce them through actions, not just descriptors. The way you wrote it might tell me their physical appearance and clothing, but very little about who they are.
Better, but still a bit too fixated on physical details instead of on character. I don’t care what color hair they have, I care about how they act and if they’re likely to like me or hate me or not think about me at all.
"Turning to face him, I smile and playfully roll my eyes. That’s when I notice that everyone else is there, too. Thalia is still in her jumpsuit from work and her hair is a mess as always. Niara is following close behind her, patiently listening to her animatedly complaining about work.
Nearby, I see Dante getting flustered trying to order from a distracted cashier while Jaime laughs silently behind his back while he drinks his soda and leans against a garbage can."
I know you (the author) are excited to share physical details about how you envision the characters, but you need to take a step back and think about how they are as people, friends, folks you (the main character) have known a long time. You can drop hints about their physical details in places where it matters more, like intimate moments where a friend might REALLY notice the way another character smiles or whatever. Right now, I want (familiar) first impressions, which is all about how they behave.
One essential tool I use to help with characterization and (for future arc(s) writing) are character sheets.
When I have categories like: Mannerisms, Habits, internal conflicts, and external conflicts all laid out in front of me, I can mix and match character traits to help flesh out the character without relying on physical features.
If you have not made character sheets for your main cast, I do suggest doing so. As a matter of fact, I like to check and update these as I write my stories because as a character follows their arcs, you will want to emphasize different things about the characters.
It feels a bit to much of an info dump for me personally. Might be better to break up the descriptions into pieces more naturally as the screen progresses and things happen instead of effectively stopping the scene for a description of everyone there. The rewrite is better than the first and would work, but still feels a bit over descriptive for me.
Do you have a friend you’ve known for years?
If someone watched you and them hang out, how would they know? What would they see? What makes you different from strangers?
As a writer and a reader, I’ve noticed over the years that, unless a person is introduced for the first time to the person, it feels a lot more natural to describe their physical appearance through actions (running fingers through hair, toying with the hem of a top or smoothing the lines of a skirt) or by dropping pieces at different times, especially if it’s a character that appears often enough. I feel like for established or less important characters, full descriptions like this aren’t needed. Readers have imaginations, and despite what we learn in school, not every description needs to be accompanied by all five senses.
I understand why it’s nice to show off the characters and give the readers a better visual, but I would encourage you to spread it out. Let it come up in conversation, have someone express surprise at something new in someone’s hair or fashion, use descriptors to show off two characters with varying appearances, etc.