Are character descriptions important? Yes. Yes, they are.

Is it wrong for someone who writes for a living to admit they once had a habit of skipping whole chapters of books? Of course I’m, uhh, asking for a friend… 😅

No, yeah, okay, it’s me. In my teens, I was very very much into the Baby-Sitters Club series. I must have read most of the original series, or at least the ones I could get my hands on where we lived at the time. When it finally dawned on me that chapter two was made up entirely of character descriptions, I would skip right on ahead to chapter three so I could get on with the story.

I must say, I don’t remember ever minding character descriptions as a reader before, but the BSC books really wore me out on them to the point where even now, almost thirty years later, I kind of glaze over for those momentary fragments where some books talk about what characters look like. It rather pains me to admit how long this has stuck with me for. I suspect I even skimp on descriptions in my own writing as a result.

Even so, I do think character descriptions are important in fiction. I have an ever-present desire to write characters almost like video game protagonists, where little to no visual description is included so readers can picture themselves with little interference. But the world’s not always set up for this, is it?

In recent years, I’ve heard of readers who love character descriptions. They love having words paint a higher-fidelity picture for them. And especially in the case of modern fiction working to undo archaic biases, those words describing characters of colour go a long way to providing a more realistic depiction of the diverse world we live in.

I don’t consider myself old, but I definitely feel my brain cogs creaking when I try to un-learn old patterns of thinking. Not the diversity part — that bit’s obvious. But re-opening my heart and mind to visual description is proving to be a challenge.

Readers and friends, please never feel shy about letting me know if my work is too laissez-faire about this kind of thing. It’s an anxiety I picked up when I was eleven years old, so I’m well overdue a re-education.

What do you think about character descriptions in the books you read? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or over email. I’m always up for a good chat!